The Irish and Lions rugby legend Paul Wallace chats this week on The Travel Tales with Fergal podcast about the mystique of Lions rugby tours, whether this year’s tour to South Africa should go ahead, and his favourite countries to tour including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and that famous 1997 Lions tour to South Africa. Listen to the podcast below or continue reading.
The British and Irish Lions are currently scheduled to tour to South Africa to play the Rugby World Champions this summer.
Paul Wallace is always associated with the Lions and when asked if it will happen, he said: “I think it will be behind closed doors, no matter what happens. But I feel it should be in South Africa and my preference would be to delay it for a year to 2022. I think everything including the Rugby World Cup should be pushed back for another year. It would make sense.
“I know there are other considerations like Ireland’s three test tour to New Zealand next year, but they say the Tokyo Olympics will be pushed back again and I think the same should happen for the Lions. My preference is a full tour with crowds next year and just take a year out and push everything back. It is a massive event and who knows what other curveballs will be thrown this year so the preparation would be difficult. Even the TV sponsors want to see full stadiums. My gut says they will go ahead this year, but I think that could be a mistake.”
Paul Wallace talks about life touring as a professional rugby player and how South Africa played a pivotal role in his career. He got his first cap playing alongside his brother Richard against Japan at the World Cup in South Africa in 1995.
He returned to South Africa for the Lions tour in 1997 and shares great stories of that tour made famous by the Living with Lions documentary. Wallace was pivotal to the winning of that series and was one of only five players to play every minute of the three tests. He was described as the player of the series by captain, Martin Johnson, and he jokes in the podcast: “That was a backhanded compliment by Johno for himself, as he was pushing behind me in the scrum.”
He speaks in-depth about that tour and how it compares to an Irish tour. “We were massive underdogs going down there. We were quite professional on the pitch, but it had the amateur ethos off the pitch. We were lucky that everyone had a day job outside of rugby, so people really enjoyed going on that tour.
“I was hopeful of going on the tour, but Peter Clohessy had been picked for Ireland in the Six Nations ahead of me. But Peter got injured at Lions training and we actually passed each other at Heathrow and saw each other through the glass partition, as he was going home, and I was arriving.
“I was probably seen as a young kid by the other players. But I was eager to prove myself and that gave me an edge over Jason Leonard and Dai Young, who were capped internationals, and they were favourites to start. It was that competition for places that really drove the squad.”
There were four Irish players on that tour - Keith Wood, Jeremy Davidson, Eric Miller, and Paul Wallace. “All four of us were actually expected to play in the first test. But Eric Miller got a flu and had taken a cough mixture which unfortunately had a banned substance, so he had to cry off the first test.”
When talking about the Lions ethos instilled by Ian McGeehan and Fran Cotton where players trained hard but enjoyed themselves too. “I think Ireland have lost out on that social aspect in World Cups. If you are not enjoying yourselves then you can go off form. The guys that were enjoying themselves, then that feed into them playing well. The guys that retired to their room and only trained found they lost form.” It gave the squad a bond and mental toughness that was crucial to winning the series.
The highest point of the tour for Wallace was the first test which he nearly did not get to play. He tells us that Jeremy Davidson stamped on his knee at training the week of the test and a decision was only made on the Friday.
He also talks of his playing days with Saracens in London and shares a great story of going to a teammate’s lodge on the Zambezi in Africa.
Next week the podcast will feature world renowned Irish economist David McWilliams talking about his time living in Russia just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and working and traveling for the International Development Bank all over the world.
Fergal O’Keeffe is the host of Ireland’s no 1 travel podcast Travel Tales with Fergal which is a weekly interview series where special guests share stories from their travels, adventures, and experiences living abroad. The guests all have inspirational stories that enable people to armchair travel in their imagination.