Bowe cautiously eyes Lions tour

Ulster coach says flanker Ferris’ departure would be a great loss


With just three league matches remaining Tommy Bowe is lined up to start with Ulster for the first time since he injured his knee in the Heineken Cup pool stages against Northhampton in mid-December. The Irish winger, who came on at the weekend for 20 minutes of Heineken Cup action against Saracens, is named in Mark Anscombe’s 25-man Ulster squad to face Newport at Ravenhill tomorrow evening.

Although he has just returned to competitive action, the Lions Tour to Australia is too obvious a carrot to ignore as Ulster face Newport (home), Connacht (away) and Cardiff (home) before the play-offs begin. But Bowe can justifiably see further than Ulster’s hopes of a home semi-final play-off.

There the winger can take comfort from Paul O’Connell, who has shown it can take weeks, not months, to acquire form.

“Yeah Paulie . . . I watched the match [last weekend’s Heineken Cup victory over Harlequins],” said Bowe. “He was outstanding in the game, as was the rest of the team. He led from the front. It was an amazing performance from the Munster guys. Of course that gives hope to seize it . . . after the tough season that Paulie has had and to be able to come back and play to that high level, it was hugely impressive.

“Anybody who was on the last Lions tour would dream of getting themselves back on to this one as well,” he said. “It is going to be difficult and it is very much out of my hands. I just need to try and show them and get as much game time as I can.”

As the right wing of choice on the 2009 tour to South Africa, he can justly feel his name holds sway with Warren Gatland. Last weekend Bowe instantly forced his way into the match. George North, Alex Cuthbert and Tim Visser may be more visible on the radar but Bowe played like he hadn’t been away.

“It was funny. There was a bit of an adrenalin buzz,” he said. “I think when I came on to the pitch I got a box kick straight away that got me straight into the game. Definitely on the wing you can spend a long time chasing around and never get your hands on the ball. I’ve done it so I was delighted to get straight into it and I felt great. My leg felt very good. I was happy with the 20 minutes and will hopefully do a lot better over the next few weeks.”

Perfect result
After the perfect result against Leinster two weeks ago Andrew Trimble, Paddy Jackson and Chris Henry have been rested and will not be involved against Newport.

Second-placed Ulster will also be without injured captain Johann Muller, out for three weeks with a bicep tear, and prop John Afoa. The tighthead, who came back from New Zealand last Wednesday to play against Saracens, has been given additional leave to return home to be with his family for the third time since January.

“A home semi-final will be the focus of the team,” added Bowe. “It was disappointing to have missed out on the Heineken but silverware was the goal at the start of the year and I think we’ve still got a massive opportunity. It was such a great result against Leinster two weeks ago, so it was very tough at the weekend . You have your few days off to to get your focus on the big game and that’s on Friday.”

Anscombe expects Ferris to leave

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe is expecting to lose Irish flanker Stephen Ferris. Asked yesterday if he believed Ferris would leave Ulster, Anscombe replied: “Yeah, most probably at this stage – he is a great loss.”

Linked with a move to Japan, the injury-plagued 27-year-old will miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, while his IRFU contract expires on June 30th. “I don’t know if it is signed or sealed at this stage – that’s for Stephen and his support team to make those decisions,” added Anscombe.