Prospering outside the comfort zone

Fri, May 28, 2010, 01:00

TOMMY BOWE INTERVIEW: JOHNNY WATTERSONtalks to the Ospreys winger who has risen to the challenge of improving his game after leaving Ulster two years ago

FINALLY THE Late Late Show noosed him last week. Tommy Bowe, beads of sweat trickling down his forehead, Ryan Tubridy showing a clip of him singing, his fraught team-mates nervously shuffling away towards the back of the stage. The song will follow him to the grave. No Test match was ever that stressful. But Bowe has taken to leaving his comfort zone. He has backed himself to take a harder road.

Two years ago when he departed Ulster, he left behind familiar horizons for uncertainty and challenge. With that change he also met some degree of scepticism, that travelling to a club side to break the “little and large” wing partnership of Shane Williams and Nikki Walker was a manageable career, taking a leap towards turbulence.

Bowe had not yet arrived. Two years later, a Grand Slam, a Lions Tour, player of the year awards in Ireland and Wales and he’s in the most-sought after seat on television, somewhere between the man who chats to the Virgin Mary and free hampers for everyone.

“I remember turning up for Ospreys’ pre-season s****ing myself,” he says. “I was thinking oh God, what am I going to do here? These boys here are top-quality, world-class internationals. You turn up first day and spill a few passes and they’re saying ‘who is this joker we’ve signed?’. The pressure was on me to show myself in a good light, to show I was more than capable of keeping up with these boys. That’s really pushed me out of the comfort zone. Week on week I feel I have to do that to keep up.”

Behind the easy banter and unassuming country-boy appeal Bowe is zealous. He always has been. The laid-back public face belies a player prepared to reach for the stars. Ambition has driven him and while leaving Belfast was a wrench he was determined not to be just another Ulster player coming through.

“In a sense I think I got that little bit more recognition by going to Ospreys. When I came here people were doubting I could get into the team. For me to get into the team and become one of their main players . . . it definitely made me sit up and make me more proud of what I do and gave me that wee bit more confidence.

“The main thing it did is take me out of the comfort zone. I’d been playing with Ulster for five years at that stage. I was enjoying myself. But for me to keep improving . . . I am an ambitious person. I’m happy to just go day by day and take things as they come but it’s different when you are at work. When ever I play a bit of rugby I enjoy the craic. But personally, I like to better myself and I think that ambition has driven me on over the last couple of years.

“I do give the impression on the exterior I’m a bit laid back but I enjoy setting myself challenges and the Ospreys are definitely a huge challenge. It’s pushed me on.”

Embarrassment in 2009 by Munster galvanised Bowe and his team-mates – 43-9 to nine in a Heineken Cup quarter-final, they pocketed the memory. This year Ospreys went to Thomond Park and beat them. While their seasonal theme has been to create chances and then spoil them, Dublin now holds no fear for them.

“The squad here could be world beaters,” says Bowe unapologetically. “The Ospreys are wanting to build a legacy. I can see that in their ambition, their facilities, what they have. That’s what inspired me. That’s what made up my mind for me. If we can beat Munster in Limerick, we can definitely go to Leinster and beat them in their back garden.”

Tomorrow it’s the RDS, 20,000 people most of them in blue. This time no nervous sweat from Bowe.