Paddy Wallace says Ireland will head to Brisbane with an extra spring in their step after a strong showing in Friday’s tour match against New Zealand Maori.
Paddy Wallace scored Ireland’s only try in a hard-fought encounter with the Maori, who managed to mark their centenary celebrations with a famous 31-28 win.
The Ulsterman was busy throughout, combining well in midfield with Gavin Duffy, and offered a solid presence in defence and attack.
Although encouraged by the tourists’ display, the overriding post-match emotion for Wallace was one of disappointment.
“It’s very frustrating. Four games defeated now in-a-row? It’s a long time since Ireland has gone like that,” admitted the centre.
“The focus certainly was on winning the game and it’s hugely disappointing to lose it regardless of how the first 10 or 15 minutes went.
“Even at 18-3 down we still felt that we had the winning of the game if we got ball, and we showed that. Unfortunately we executed poorly maybe in some parts of the second half and that cost us the game.”
Some early lapses in defence, which allowed Hosea Gear and Dwayne Sweeney collect tries, and a failure to turn some late pressure into points left Ireland an agonising three points adrift by the final whistle.
But for what was largely a young and inexperienced team, the men in green showed plenty of promise as they recovered from that lacklustre start.
Pressed into action while his Under-20 colleagues contest the IRB Junior World Championship play-offs in Argentina, young flanker Rhys Ruddock adapted well to top level rugby.
The back row was arguably Ireland’s best unit on the night, with Ruddock, Niall Ronan and Chris Henry collectively putting in a very good shift.
In the backs, Jonathan Sexton starred with a 23-point kicking haul and some smart options in open play, and Wallace acknowledged the contribution the Leinster out-half made.
“Johnny was excellent tonight and a great strike with the boot. Kicking a couple from the halfway line was just what we needed to claw our way back in that first half,” he said.
“Just take points whenever they were offered, and he did that well. He orchestrated things well.”
Of his own 80-minute run-out, which marked his first start since Ulster’s Magners League against the Ospreys in April, Wallace was reserving judgement.
“Ach, games sort of pass me by. It takes me a couple of days to review it and pick out the good and bad parts of my game.
“There was a huge challenge with the personnel they had in that Maori team and the passion they brought to that jersey, it being the centenary year of the Maori.
“I wouldn’t say it was daunting but it certainly got me up for the game!”
Boosted by Friday’s improved performance, Ireland now move on to Brisbane where they will face Australia next Saturday, and given the level of performance in Rotorua, there will be extra anticipation for Tuesday’s team announcement.
Wallace, who started against the Wallabies last November, added: “It was disappointing to lose (to the Maori), there’s no hiding from that.
‘It was the dirties’ (dirt trackers’) job to try and get the show back on the road again.
“Unfortunately we came up short in terms of getting the overall victory but I think the spirit we showed probably lifted the whole squad, and will take us over to Brisbane in better spirits.”