Happy memories for Wallace

The recent HSBC Lions Legends event in Dublin brought back a host of happy memories for 1997 hero Paul Wallace. [more]

Happy memories for Wallace

The recent HSBC Lions Legends event in Dublin brought back a host of happy memories for 1997 hero Paul Wallace.

The Ireland prop, who was an ever-present in the 2-1 Test series victory over the Springboks in the first-ever professional tour, met up with earlier tourists Gareth Edwards and Fergus Slattery to discuss Lions past, present and future on Thursday night.

The event itself was part of a series of special dinners and lunches organized by the Lions’ principal tour sponsor HSBC in the build up to this summer’s pivotal tour of South Africa.

While the trio argued over who should appear in the Greatest Ever Lions XV, Wallace took time out to chat exclusively to www.lionsrugby.com about what made his Lions experience so special.

"I’ve been talking to various people here and talking about 1997," said Wallace who, along with 1993 tourist Richard and 2001 squad member David, is one three brothers to have represented the Lions.

"It was 12 years ago now and quite a lot of time has passed but there are a lot of happy memories, both on and off the pitch. I’m really looking forward to this summer, going down to South Africa and seeing how this Lions Test side will get on."

One aspect of the 1997 tour that Wallace looks back upon particularly fondly is the team spirit and camaraderie that the 13-game adventure created between the players and coaches – something that undoubtedly played a huge role in producing the Lions’ second series victory against the Springboks in 101 years.

The Living with Lions video that was released after the squad’s return gave a real insight into the positive atmosphere within the camp and Wallace confirmed that the vibes given off in front off the camera were not simply for show.

"The team really gelled," the Cork-born tighthead added.

"I don’t think there were any two players who didn’t get on. Two players who were going for the same jersey backed each other when one was playing mid-week and the other might be playing on the Saturday.

"The whole squad got behind the team playing the Test even though some guys might have been quite disappointed in not making the Test side. Everyone bought into it and we achieved what seemed unlikely going down there in beating the world champions South Africa.

"Everyone getting a fair crack at the whip in selection for the Test side was also important. The management went down with a very open mind.

"There’s nothing like a Lions tour and I think that when you go down there, different players react differently to a tour, especially playing in the altitude of South Africa, and some teams that you put together react to it better than others.

"I think it’s very important to try all the different permutations and combinations and to ensure that the form players are on the tour."

Paul Wallace (right) was part of a winning Lions side 12 years ago

Like his two brothers before and after him, Wallace missed out on selection for the original touring party in 1997. Despite the initial setback, the then 25-year-old was called up as replacement for countryman Peter Clohessy prior to the squad’s departure and Wallace was determined to do everything in his power to make the most of an opportunity he thought had been lost.

"I was very disappointed to miss out," explained the former Blackrock, Saracens and Leinster star.

"I’d been led to believe that I was going to be picked but we had a bad loss to Scotland the game before and a number of Irish players got a bit of a knock from that.

"But I always felt that, as I suppose most players would on a tour, that I was better than the other guys in my position and that I should be in the Test side. That’s just something that comes with being an international player.

"I had that view going down but my position was very competitive. We had two guys who’d played in previous Lions’ Test series’ in Dai Young and Jason Leonard. It was always going to be very tough but I felt that, if I got a chance or an opportunity, I was going to make the most of it.

"I thought I could play better than them and make the Test side and, thankfully, I got those chances and was able to take some of them to make it into that Test line up."

Wallace more than just made the Test side. The Sky Sports pundit made the No 3 shirt his own, giving Springbok giant Os du Rant a torrid time and ensuring the Lions left with their heads held high and with a rare and unexpected series victory to their name.

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