David Wallace is hoping to maintain a fine family tradition in Durban today when he makes his British & Irish Lions debut.
For 12 years ago it was his elder brother Paul who started things off by beating the Springboks on his Lions Test debut. That victory in Cape Town was the beginning of a famous 2-1 series win for Martin Johnson’s Lions and now it is David’s chance to shoot for more Wallace glory.
The Wallace’s will be following the Underwoods, Rory and Tony, and the Hastings, Gavin and Scott, in having two brothers become Test Lions in recent years.
The Wallace family tradition with the Lions was started by Richard, when he was called out as a replacement on the 1993 Lions tour. A fine wing, Richard won 29 caps for Ireland and played five times for the Lions in New Zealand.
Next up was Paul, a prop who made 45 appearances for Ireland and played six times, including all three tests, for mighty Martin Johnson’s 1997 Lions in South Africa. He came from nowhere to make the test team and wrote his name into Lions history in indelible ink.
Tough acts for young David to follow, but the lessons, and hidings, dished out to him in the back garden in Limerick were well heeded. Not only did he become an international in his own right, and a Lion in Australia in 2001, but now he has made it into the test arena as well.
“We’re all so proud of him. He has been playing so well and, being up against someone like Martyn Williams, his form had to be outstanding to make the Test side,” said paul, who will be one of the Sky Sports analysts in Durban..
“There is an awful lot of strength in depth in this Lions squad and there were a lot of tight calls. Most people would have figured out the team, but there were a few close calls.
“That shows how good the players are. They have been pushing each other from the start and that is what it was like in 1997. The relationships between the players here look as good as they were in 1997.
“It is great to look back now and to re-live those great memories and moments. It is going to be very exciting being at the game and I am probably more nervous now watching David play than when I was playing myself.
“I think he is a hell of a player and I hope he is going to grow his reputation even more throughout this series. He was four or five years younger than me when we were growing up, so when we were playing in the garden together might was right.”
While Paul is ‘calling’ the game on Sky Sports, the rest of the Wallace clan will be cheering from the stands at the ABSA Stadium. There should be a lot of noise.
“My parents, Michael and Greta, are over and so is my eldest brother, Henry. He’s here with his wife, Slyvia, and their son Ben,” explained Paul.
“David’s wife, Aileen, has joined us with their 10 month old son, Andrew, and the only missing link will be Richard and his new wife Elaine, who are still at home in Cork.”
But while they are all set to get very excited on the touchlines, David knows that keeping a cool head on the field against the world champions is vitally important if he is to take the next step up the ladder of rugby immortality. After 55 Irish caps, not to mention two Heineken Cup final victories with Munster, he is used to the hurly burly of top flight, professional sport.
“I got a taste for the Lions in 2001 when I was on the periphery. The emotions will be buzzing in Durban, but it is important to focus on what you are supposed to be doing rather than what you are feeling,” said David.
“I was just delighted to hear my name being called out when the Test team was announced. I’m excited and looking forward to the challenge.
“To get a Test start gives me a great sense of achievement and I just hope I can do half as well as Paul did 12 years ago. He is always good for a few words of advice.
“It is good to have him out here along with some other family members. It is great to have that moral support. It would be great if I could do the same as him.”
David was just out of school when Paul was performing his heroics in 1997. He watched the games in West Cork and is now getting his chance to follow in some very illustrious family footsteps.
“Playing for the Lions is all about getting on the tour, getting into the Test team and then, most importantly, winning the series,” said Paul.
“David has achieved so much success and has so much experience that he doesn’t need any words of advice from me. He will play his normal game, be physical and go out and enjoy himself.
“If you try to enjoy the Test experience you will play all the better. Following the Lions is one thing, but to have a family member involved makes it all the more special.
“I’ll certainly be buying him a few beers after the game if the Lions win.”
It looks like being a big round for Paul if that happens – with tens of thousands of Lions supporters joining in as well if they can pull it off. All one big happy family!