All eyes on Tommy Bowe’s return as Ulster circle the Dragons
Winger’s return from injury will be of keen interest to Ireland coach Joe Schmidt
Tommy Bowe: ready to return to action for Ulster following a troublesome groin injury which has kept him out of action for three months. Photo: Matt Mackey/Presseye/Inpho
After a week of some confusion in Ulster, things have finally straightened out for the good. Sitting in third place in the table with ambitions to claim a home draw come playoff time, Newport will be met by a strong home side.
But there’s no doubt that for neutrals at this time of year Tommy Bowe’s groin takes centre stage tonight, not the discipline issues surrounding Kiwi backrow, Nick Williams.
Like Donnacha Ryan’s return to fitness a few weeks ago, a successful run-out for Bowe should influence Joe Schmidt’s thinking for next week or for the final Six Nations game in Paris against France.
It’s easier now for Schmidt to make changes to the team having lost to England. With Simon Zebo also doing his best to attract international attention, the supply of wingers now outstrips demand.
But Ulster coach Mark Anscombe cautioned that, with the player having been ruled out for three months, Bowe’s injury is the type that can react to workloads and that the day after is the appropriate time to assess whether he’s back to full contact running.
Ulster were delayed this week arriving back from Italy and didn’t land in Belfast until Monday, which makes for a hasty turnaround. Tighthead prop John Afoa is in New Zealand but Ireland bench players Paddy Jackson and Iain Henderson return to give the team -sheet a stronger look.
Rory Scholes, the Ireland U-20 winger, makes his first senior start with no sign of Craig Gilroy on the bench. On the issue of Ulster’s average performances, Anscombe has been laying down the law.
“There were a few guys that had to play 80 minutes on Sunday and they’ll have to back that up on Friday and it doesn’t matter how sore they are Saturday because they have a week off,” said the coach.
“We’re not hurt by injuries. It is about taking responsibility for what we need to do and we’ve got two or three guys on the fringe of the national team and these are the opportunities that we need to take.
“They have to show the national body that they need to be looked at regularly and not sulking because they are not in the national team. They have to show that they are international quality players and maybe a few of them haven’t done that in the last few weeks.”
Ulster set out an objective in the current four-week window to get four wins and 16 points. They’ve got two from two now but are looking for momentum on the approach to the anticipated playoff phase.
“We don’t want to take our focus off the Rabo and it is important we stay in the top four, “ added Anscombe.
“You see Munster and Leinster starting to get a break and we don’t want them to get too far ahead so we just have to keep chipping away.”
Ulster’s only defeat at Ravenhill in that last 12 months was to Glasgow in September. More ominously for the Welsh side, their last away win against an Irish team came against Ulster – way back in 2008.