Despite having two RBS 6 Nations campaigns already behind him, Saturday’s encounter with France will represent Paddy Wallace’s first start for Ireland in the competition’s history and he is determined to make up for lost time.
Injuries, loss of form and just plain bad luck have so far prevented Paddy Wallace from getting a proper run in the Ireland team.
2008 was his best year on the international scene as he collected six caps, scoring a try in the summer tour defeat to New Zealand and kicking two penalties in the November win over Canada.
Long viewed as a utility player and a deputy number 10 to Ronan O’Gara, Wallace is now honing in on a midfield role for both province and country.
His centre partnership with Darren Cave has helped reignite Ulster’s season, with his distribution and play-making skills to the fore.
The pair are undoubtedly Irish provincial rugby’s most prolific midfielders at present with Cave tallying up five tries in his last seven games for Ulster and Wallace scoring four tries in his last nine outings.
Now the chance to impress at inside centre for Ireland has presented itself again and looking back on last summer’s tour to New Zealand and Australia, the Belfast man did little wrong in the position during those two games.
Another encouraging display in the number 12 jersey against France could see him cement his place alongside his former UCD club-mate Brian O’Driscoll for the coming games, keeping the fit-again Gordon D’Arcy on the bench and others out of the squad.
But Wallace, although delighted to gain a starting place, is not viewing the tournament opener in an individual sense – he knows just how important a win would be for the overall squad.
“I’m obviously very excited about playing in front of a full house at Croke Park on Saturday for my first Six Nations start,” he said, contemplating his 13th Test cap.
“Partnerships take time to develop. (Myself and Brian) we had that time over the summer as a starting point and hopefully we can develop and improve on our performances in the summer.
I’m obviously very excited but at the end of the day, this is a Six Nations Championship that we have aspirations to win.
“We’ve got win our home games and get off to a good start and build momentum, and that’s what we intend to do on Saturday.
“We realise how tough a challenge it is going to be against the French because it’s seldom we get an opportunity to beat them.
“It will be a big ask on Saturday, they cost us the Grand Slam two years ago and hopefully we can right that this year.”
Wallace admitted that his positioning in training had given him ‘an inkling’ that he might be in Declan Kidney’s mind for a start.
“In training I was being put in a lot at 12. Unfortunately you can’t read too much into that with the way Declan works – he likes to throw out a few curveballs from time to time!
“So I just found out really when he announced the squad and I was delighted to be picked.”
The 29-year-old, who was a member of Ireland’s 2003 Rugby World Cup squad, has noted the progress the squad has made in their short time so far with Kidney.
Two wins out of three in the GUINNESS Series, securing Ireland’s second seeding for the 2011 World Cup draw, have given the men in green a decent platform to build on and Wallace is evidently pleased to have the Corkman at the helm.
“Declan coached the Ireland Under-19 team that I was involved in, he was assistant coach for Ireland when I was at the World Cup in 2003. So I’ve a bit of history working with him.
“He’s been very good, we’ve had some great weeks in camps (pre Christmas) and in November.
“We’re really developing as a squad and I think the improvement has shown in the last two weeks in training.”