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Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Dan Sheridan/INPHO David Wallace in action for the 2009 Lions.
# Ahead of the game
'If I had my chance again, if I could start out again, I’d do it all again, 100 per cent'
Former Ireland international David Wallace has concerns about the number of ex-players who are suffering from concussion related injuries but believes the game is safer now than it ever was.

REGRETS? DAVID WALLACE has very few.

That doesn’t stop him worrying about the effects of CTE on his former colleagues or rivals; it doesn’t stop him campaigning for rugby’s representative bodies to do more for former players, especially those suffering from the after-effects of a tough career.

He read the case of Carl Hayman in recent days and couldn’t help but fear for the former All Black who has been diagnosed with dementia at just 41.

“I’d a fair few head injuries myself,” said Wallace today at a promotional event for Canterbury. “It is a worry for me, of course it is. The game is a safer place now; players are more aware, so too coaches about the potential problems.

“But look, if I had my chance again, if I could choose to start out again, I’d do it all again, 100 per cent. It was what I did since I was four-years-old. Your identity was tied up in the game. You loved it. Then, when it was over, you had to reinvent yourself in terms of a career. The money rugby players got paid enabled you to have a nice lifestyle while you played but it was not like the money Premier League footballers got. You start in a different career as soon as your rugby one finishes.

“So I’d like more support structures in place for former players. I’m not looking for sympathy. I’ve been very fortunate. But former players with head injuries, that’s a worry. Those players certainly need to be supported.”

jamie-heaslip-with-wayne-barnes-and-carl-hayman-at-the-coin-toss Billy Stickland / INPHO Carl Hayman (r) has dementia at just 41. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Infinitely less important than fears about a person’s wellbeing is the debate going on in Irish rugby right now about the health of the international team.

In some areas, there’s a shortage of depth; in others, especially the department Wallace excelled in for Munster, Ireland and the Lions, there are serious options at Andy Farrell’s disposal.

“We have always been very fortunate in that back-row area,” said Wallace. “In my day, even getting into the Munster team was difficult. I remember one of my earliest Munster training sessions, looking around and seeing Eddie Halvey, Anthony Foley, Alan Quinlan and David Corkery.

“There and then, I thought if I can break into this side, then I’m half a step away from international rugby. We have always had strength in depth. But now, it’s gone to another level because you have the hybrid second-rows, Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson and Ryan Baird, which makes it all the more competitive.

tadhg-beirne-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-that-was-later-disallowed Billy Stickland / INPHO Beirne can play at six as well as as a lock. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“We have great strength in depth but we are going to need it. It is a challenging programme of games coming up – Japan, Argentina and New Zealand this month; then away days in Paris and London in the Six Nations; then a three-game tour to New Zealand.

“You are really going to be calling on your squad members for the remainder of the season. There is so much depth but also within those numbers, there are a few stand-out players.”

Such as?

“Right, you have Josh van der Flier. He has been absolutely excellent in the last 12 months. He is carrying a lot more and not just carrying more but doing so with intensity and ability. He may have even surprised himself in terms of how good he is.

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“He always had an incredible engine; you always saw him around the field but the one area of his game he didn’t get credit for was his carrying. He has grown in confidence with that skill recently and has become a real threat. He has nailed on that No7 position for a bit.”

EA6A8835 Dan Sheridan / INPHO Wallace at the Canterbury jersey launch. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

No8 isn’t so clear-cut. You have Jack Conan, starter for the Lions or alternatively try-scoring machine, Gavin Coombes. If not either of those, the talented Caelan Doris is a viable option. “Gavin breaks the mould a bit in terms of a back-row player, in terms of his ability to make those hard yards. He has a massive engine, too, for such a big guy.

“The number of tries he scores is unique for a back-row. He has that bulk but also that power to go along with it. While Jack Conan has got in front in the race to that jersey, I’d also like to see him get a chance.”

Another name mentioned in dispatches is Nick Timoney who Tommy Bowe recently compared to Wallace. “He has power; he has ability; you’d like to see more of him in an Ireland jersey to see what he is like at that level.”

If only it was that easy to fit all the players in. Yet while Timoney, Coombes and Doris represent the future, Wallace isn’t so sure that Peter O’Mahony should be consigned to the past. The old man keeps coming back – no matter how often people think he’s finished.

“Peter has incredible mental strength,” says Wallace. “You look at him on the field and there is no doubt in your mind that he possesses those attributes. Any time he gets knocked down, he bounces back. People have written him off and he continues to deliver. He will feel the pressure around him but he is a talismanic figure, he lifts players around him. The value of that cannot be underestimated.”

* Canterbury, the official kit partner to Irish Rugby, has revealed the new Ireland Rugby Heritage jersey, inspired by 2003′s classic strip. The Heritage jersey is available now via Intersport Elverys in store and via Elverys.ie, and on Canterbury.com.

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