The Paddy Wallace Blog – Six Nations

The RBS Six Nations is underway, and it has been a great start for Ireland. The match in Italy showed that while everyone expects Ireland to win, the Italian team are never going to roll over and always make it difficult, particularly in Rome. They were also doing well against our next opponents England, until the last quarter when the English managed to put a lot more points on so the score made it look easier than it was.

I was in Dublin for the French match, and it was a different experience from playing or even being part of the squad. A lot of people were coming up to say hello, and it was a lot of fun for Tina and I to experience a Six Nations home match without any pressure, apart from being a supporter and friends with a lot of the players.

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I was particularly pleased to see Jared Payne have a good game, making lots of hits and gaining a lot of ground with his running game. He played full back for Ulster when I was in the centre but he has really stepped up and is showing his ability as an attacking player. Iain Henderson coming off the bench is also having an impact.

The injury to Jamie Heaslip will mean team changes, and we may see Hendy get selected at Number 6 to add some bulk to the pack, with Peter O’Mahony taking the number 8 role.

It shows how far on Irish Rugby has come when we are expected to beat the French easily. It is never going to be easy, and they showed it on Saturday, putting the guys under real pressure until the final whistle. I will be giving Rory a bit of stick about his yellow card.

The team seem to have got away without any injuries, and it was a relief to see that Johnny Sexton did not get another concussion. Bastareaud is like a brick wall, and would be a forward for most teams, so tackling him is always a challenge. It was not the thing you looked forward to most when playing rugby.

One of the things that people don’t see are the things that you do as a professional player to avoid injuries. The knocks that happen in a match are unavoidable, but the muscular strains can be minimised by following proper warm up and cool down routines. The days of a quick stretch before a match and a bath afterwards are long gone. Your strategy is dependent on the kick off time. The fuel you put into your body is so important and meals are taken throughout the day and timed so that you are peaking come game time. Guys may partake in light stretching, massage or even Pilates throughout the day of a game. Usually we would take a walk into St Stephens Green. The forwards will walk through their lineout prep and the backs their set plays. It’s just nice to get out of the Shelbourne and stretch the legs and get some fresh air.

The real buzz comes after the coaches meeting when we walk to the bus, the lobby is packed and your family are usually there to give you a send off. A very emotional time.

The warm down is also important, as coming off having put your body through the paces, if you just went and sat down, you will seize up. We would have a number of things to do to make sure we were not going to have problems. It does not mean you don’t feel the effects of a match, you know you have been in a battle, but it minimises the chances of a problem arising during the week.

Post match facilities in the Aviva are second to none, they have invested in a state of the art recovery unit with hot and cold baths. Guys alternate between the hot and cold about three times and usually finish up in the hot reflecting on the game. Some of the old amateur values still remain and a bottle of beer is usually at hand, only after usual hydration protocols have been met of course.

So it will be England up next, at the Aviva on the 1st March, and it looks like it may be a deciding fixture. They are a young team, but showing real commitment and flair. They will be thinking Six Nations, but also World Cup, so it will be a really competitive match.

The Ulster team have also shown that they are finding form, and the 43-3 win against Treveso has put us back on track for the Guinness Pro 12. The next couple of fixtures will be vital, but the team will be feeling very positive, and looking for good results to take them to the next stages.

Here’s hoping for wins for both teams, and a chance to win championships.

Paddy Wallace

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