Travel Tales – Paul Wallace

The Irish and Lions rugby legend Paul Wallace chats this week on the Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast about the mystique of Lions rugby tour and his favourite countries to tour including Japan, Australia, New Zealand and that famous 1997 Lions tour to South Africa.

Paul 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.

Paul 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. Paul was pivotal to the winning of that series and was one of only five players to play every minute of the three tests. Paul was described at his player of the series by captain, Martin Johnson, and Paul 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. “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 Paul 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.

Fergal O’Keeffe is the host of Ireland’s No.1 Travel Podcast Travel Tales with Fergal which is a weekly interview series where a special guest shares stories from their travels, adventures and experiences living abroad. The guests all have inspirational stories that enable people to armchair travel in their imagination.

The Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast is available all podcast platforms and people can follow all his updates on @traveltaleswithfergal on Instagram and @FergalTravel on Twitter.