David Wallace is the latest Ireland legend to announce his retirement. I thought I’d share one or two memories of his days with Munster and Ireland. Hopefully, you have a few that you can contribute too. If you do, leave a comment at the end of the piece and share the love for Wally!
My first ever Munster match was a Heineken Cup pool game in 2001 against Castres. Munster won 21-11 thanks to a try from Anthony Foley and 11 points from the reliable boot of ROG. But it was David Wallace’s performance that stood out. He was named Man of the Match for what was fast becoming a typically powerful display. I still have the match programme and I wrote in ‘MOTM’ beside his name, along with a little star!
It was immediately clear to my uneducated rugby eye that Wallace was a genuine star. He would be called up to the Lions tour later in the year to replace the injured Lawrence Dallaglio. Of course he scored a try there too. The Limerick man was almost impossible to stop from five metres out. As soon as Munster or Ireland got within sniffing distance of the tryline, there was only one man they looked for.
Wallace’s power in contact was second to none. As his career progressed, and his thighs grew ever larger, he became harder and harder to stop. His try-scoring record was prolific for a back-row. He scored 40 tries in his 203 appearances for Munster. For Ireland, he dotted down 12 times in his 72 caps. It may not read as particularly impressive, but to give a quick comparison, centre Gordon D’Arcy has 7 in 68 caps. Wally’s pace and freakish strength made him a serious finisher.
Anyone who ever saw Wallace live, in the flesh, will know just how strong he was. The collisions he was involved in were nearly always accompanied by a sickening thud. His ability to accelerate into contact should not be underestimated. Any rugby player will tell you how hard it is to consciously do. The natural instinct is often to simply accept a tackle. Good coaches constantly remind their players to accelerate into the contact zone and battle to stay on their feet. Wallace didn’t need to be told. He relished the physical battle and always burst into tacklers.
One of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever been at was that famous bonus point win over Sale in Thomond Park in 2006. It was into injury time when Wallace picked from a ruck and strolled over for the try that guaranteed Munster’s progress. Interestingly, there was no one in front of him that time, but if there had been they wouldn’t have stopped him. It was one of the days where I truly understood just how special Munster rugby was and Wallace played the starring role.
He wasn’t simply a bosh merchant though. Wally was an intelligent player with a phenomenal work-rate. His support play from 7 was underrated. He scored plenty of tries by simply being in the right place at the right time, the mark of a great player. His fitness was unquestionable, with the big carries and hits coming for the full 80 minutes. On top of that, he always came across as good craic and a nice guy.
Two Heineken Cups, two Magners Leagues, a Celtic Cup, three Triple crowns, a Rugby World Cup, a Grand Slam and two Lions tours. That says it all really. A legend of Irish rugby.
Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan.