Thursday 22 March 2018

'You don't want to be remembered for a flash in the pan'

Wallace: Focusing on stopping England’s Grand Slam march would be a ‘poor motivational tool’

Former Ireland rugby international David Wallace. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Former Ireland rugby international David Wallace. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Sometimes a match is marked by a moment. In the second minute of the 2011 final day meeting between Ireland and England, Dylan Hartley carried the ball into Donncha O'Callaghan, Rory Best and Sean O'Brien who wrapped him up in what was then a relatively new trick up Irish sleeves, the choke tackle.

From the scrum, the Irish pack marched the English eight backwards. Penalty awarded, Johnny Sexton tapped and spread the ball wide to Keith Earls who kicked ahead and forced Ben Foden into a rushed touch.

Ireland had set the tone and went on to win the game comfortably thanks to tries from Brian O'Driscoll and Tommy Bowe, denying England a Grand Slam in the process.

The season had been forgettable, but the locals went home happy. Joe Schmidt will be hoping for something similar this weekend.

In the days afterwards, a leaked Youtube video made by sponsors to commemorate the clean sweep only made matters worse for Martin Johnson men.

"We got off to a really good start and the crowd got behind us," Mike Ross recalled yesterday at the Aviva Stadium where he helped launch Pieta House's 'Share the Number, Share the Light' campaign.

Former Ireland international David Wallace playing against England in 2011. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Former Ireland international David Wallace playing against England in 2011. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile


"We just kept the pressure on and England kind of faded. There'd be a couple of players left from that day, the likes of James Haskell, Dylan Hartley and Dan Coles.

"It was a good day, we felt pretty good after it but England still won the Championship and they collected their medals in the Four Seasons afterwards.

"They certainly didn't look too pleased doing it, it was kind of like a runners-up prize to them I'd say."

It was a classic of the genre. An English team on a roll, whose bubble was firmly burst by an obliging Celtic nation on the final day. Scotland and Wales have both enjoyed such outings, Ireland did it in 2001 and on Saturday they get the chance to do it all again.

Ireland came into this year's tournament with realistic title ambitions and to be reduced to the roll of party-poopers is somewhat disappointing, but while publicly they are playing down the importance of denying Eddie Jones' men a Grand Slam and a world record 19th successive win, the carrot is there.

"England would like nothing better than to come here and do the Grand Slam and collect the trophy in front of a packed Aviva," Ross conceded.

"That's fairly powerful motivation for us. If I was playing it would be in the back of my mind a little.

"You can't focus on it. You've to focus on your own process and job, but there's always extraneous factors and that's kind of one of them."

David Wallace also faced Johnson's men on that day six years ago. It would turn out to be his final Six Nations game but it's not one that stands out too fondly in his memory and he doesn't think Ireland will be focusing on the English ambitions this week.

"Their motivation won't be to stop England going for a Grand Slam or to stop them getting a record; their motivation will be to go out and beat England and finish the campaign on a positive note," he said.

"The fear of losing three games in a campaign will be a bit motivation for them as well.

"It (stopping England) is a poor motivational tool to use as a player, so I don't think they'll be looking at that at all."

The one-off wins are not high on Wallace's list, it's the years when Ireland were able to achieve a level of consistency that he remembers.

"They're one off-games, you don't want to be a flash in the pan," he said.

"It's about consistency, you want to go out and be a great team; you don't want to raise your game when it suits you.

"A lot of teams can do that and rugby is such an emotional game, that can have a big difference and you shouldn't have much pride in that.

"That consistency, bringing that every week is the hardest thing in rugby to do because getting to that peak every week is difficult.

"Even though it's professional, it's emotional and that's very hard to control."

On the Irish team, Sexton, Earls, Best, O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healy remain involved, while on the English side Hartley, Haskell, Ben Youngs, Danny Care and Cole will remember the experience.

Yet, come Saturday Eddie Jones insists it will have no bearing.

"It has no relevance for us," he said.

"Some guys carry a few scars from that and the scars always help in the battle because you don't want them again.

"It is very easy for us to go from where we are to failures. We learn from the previous experiences.

"It's all relative, but we want to win back-to-back Grand Slams, but we don't judge that sort of thing, the press do. We just have to try and play good rugby and our target is to be Grand Slam champions."

Some of the faces are the same, but Jones' England team are a different beast to the one that showed up in 2011. For one night only, Ireland will go back to spoiling mode and they'll take some satisfaction if they can derail the Chariot one more time.

Irish Independent

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