Monday 19 February 2018

Wallace ready to carry the fight

Hugh Farrelly

David Wallace shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

Being referred to as a 'freak of nature' (albeit in a flattering manner) is a little unhinging and brings to mind images of supplementary limbs or various 'X-Men' characters.

However, after a Six Nations campaign during which Wallace looked as energetic and powerful as he did in his breakthrough season 10 years previously, the fact he is zooming up on his 35th birthday in July could be seen as placing his contribution in the 'freakish' category.

"I don't know about that," says Wallace. "I hope I'm not (a freak of nature) but I feel great. From a power and speed and muscular point of view, that's all as good or better than ever."

That is certainly true. Wallace remains one of the most potent ball-carriers in the game, phenomenal leg-drive consistently carrying him through the tackle into front-foot territory.

It is something Munster (188 caps) and Ireland (67) have benefitted from hugely over the last decade and more. But now, suddenly, there is stern competition for the title of Ireland's best carrier.


Sean O'Brien had a phenomenal Six Nations alongside Wallace in the Irish back-row.

The Tullow man's capacity to bust tackles is Wallace-esque and, with the pace and sense to hit the ball from depth, he has become a major weapon for province and country.

Tomorrow, the two go head-to-head when Leinster run out in Thomond Park in search of their sixth straight win in this always eagerly anticipated fixture. It is one of a host of intriguing face-offs and having seen what he can do up close, Wallace has a healthy respect for O'Brien's qualities.

"It's kind of frightening when you look at his age profile and see the kind of player he is and the power, knowledge and skill he gives to the game," says Wallace.

"He has a really strong career ahead of him, it's frightening to think how good he can get. We've seen the damage he has done for Leinster. He works very well with the nines (scrum-halves) off ruck ball. We will be tested there and have to bring our 'A' game."

O'Brien has been one of the stand-out players for Leinster this season, but Wallace has been hugely impressed with their combined progress under Joe Schmidt and, while that underscores their recent dominance over Munster, it also steels the determination in Wallace and his team-mates to bring the run to an end. "They are very, very good, probably one of the best teams in Europe attacking-wise and they have a lot of players, like Sean, playing very well. They are the team to beat this season -- you can't say much more than that.

"But we're not getting side-tracked about what happened in the past. We are looking at this for what it is and the valuable points that are on offer."

Though both camps are manfully trying to play it down, the rivalry between the provinces is deep, intense and historical. Wallace's elder brother Paul came through the Munster underage system with Crescent Comprehensive and the Munster Schools and U-20 sides, but his senior provincial career was largely spent with Leinster, either side of a stint in England with Saracens.

It meant the tight-head prop received special attention when he faced his native province and placed David in an awkward position during one Heineken Cup fixture in 1999/2000.

"I played against Paul when he was playing for Saracens. I remember Paul had come on and he had a healthy rivalry with Claw (Peter Clohessy) and from the first scrum there was a bit of a punch-up.

"I was first on the scene and wasn't sure what way to take it! Breaking it up was the easiest and most diplomatic way to do it."

So much for the past. The present is Thomond tomorrow evening and Wallace goes into the match on the back of some serious form, but he is careful not to depend on that too much.

"I've never got myself too high or low in terms of my form because it's very fleeting. I'm happy to an extent the way the Six Nations went and there was a little bit of pressure, talking about age, and that spurs you on as well, because you're up there to be knocked down. But I've learned over the years that if you try to rest on your laurels that's when you get knocked off fairly quickly."

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