Bowe’s prayers answered as he goes out on a wing for the second time
Delighted for call up for Australia after after lengthy lay-off with injury
Ulster’s Tommy Bowe in Belfast Zoo after he was named in yesterday’s 37 man 2013 British & Irish Lions squad tour to Australia. Photograph: William Cherry/Presseye/Inpho
Tommy Bowe is the lightest winger going on tour with the British and Irish Lions this summer. At six-foot-three and just over 15 stone, that’s some warning to Robbie Deans’ Wallabies.
The Sydney Morning Herald was quick to label Warrant Gatland’s squad a collection of “big slabs of red meat.”
And so it begins. For Bowe, the past few months have been all about urgency. Having required surgery in December after badly damaging the lateral part of his right knee, jarring it in the 10-9 defeat to Northampton, a second successive Lions tour seemed beyond this eminently decent 29-year-old from Monaghan.
“I saw the paper, like everyone else, that Warren was giving some people a chance to come back but I knew the Six Nations was the real area to showcase what you got. I knew I had my work cut out.”
Really, Gatland was talking about two of his favourite players, the laid up Paul O’Connell and Dan Lydiate, but he included Bowe in that bracket as sponsors transported him all over the globe, cranking up this hugely profitable and unique tour.
And Gatland is well able to talk. Along with Scotland’s Andy Irvine, they sold the 10-match tour, constantly dropping Bowe’s name in the process.
Reading the Lions coach name-checking you while hobbling from the gym to physio room must have been a chink of light in solitary confinement.
Gasped in disbelief
Bowe knew his parole hearing was on April 6th at Twickenham. The rugby world gasped in disbelief as O’Connell delivered a monumental performance the following afternoon across the road at The Stoop (just as Conor Murray was eclipsing Danny Care and Tommy O’Donnell was out digging a jaded looking Chris Robshaw). But Bowe’s 22 minute cameo in Ulster’s dismal loss to Saracens in that European quarter-final registered with Gatland.
He arrived at outside centre for Darren Cave just before Owen Farrell made it 22-9. It was over as a contest but from watching Bowe, and young Iain Henderson for that matter, it seemed like the game was going down to the wire.
Bowe was all action, the midfield role he filled so impressively when the Lions finally beat the Springboks in the third Test in 2009.
He followed Twickenham up with a try from the right wing against the Dragons (Gatland again peering in to watch Lydiate and Toby Faletau) and switched to the left against Connacht where he grabbed another try.
It all matters. George North is the only out and out left winger selected, while Jamie Roberts is the only established No 12, perhaps opening the road for Brian O’Driscoll to shift inside.
“I’m delighted the coaches had the confidence to pick me,” said Bowe after training yesterday ahead of Friday’s game at home to Cardiff. “That gives me a real spur, a real urge to try and push myself on when I get on tour.”
‘Up to speed’
“I’m happy with how quickly I got up to speed because my fitness levels still needed a few more weeks but I just had to get back for the quarters, I felt, but probably could’ve done with another week or two under my belt.
“At least I am getting match fitness now, we’ve a game this weekend, a semi-final the week after so hopefully I’ll get three more games under my belt before we tour. That would be perfect.”
That would be a grand total of 14 matches for Ulster this season, with his last Ireland cap coming against Argentina in November. And still he keeps scoring tries, having banked seven for both club and country in the current disrupted campaign.
The euphoria felt by Bowe and Murray yesterday at Ulster and Munster training yesterday would have been muted, what with Peter O’Mahony, Simon Zebo and especially Rory Best missing out.
“Ach, I’m absolutely devastated for Rory,” said Bowe. “Everyone in Ulster and Ireland felt he had a really great shot of going on the tour. And he would be up there to get picked for the Test series. All of us up here really feel for him.”
This, of course, is Bowe’s second time on the Lions carousel with Ireland’s bolter Conor Murray arriving in a very similar position to the likes of Bowe, Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Jamie Heaslip in 2009.
Just turned 24, Murray can see Fitzgerald’s injury ravaged career ever since the ’09 tour as a warning; this could be the pinnacle. Jeremy Davidson and Eric Miller are further examples.
Not that Murray hasn’t been performing like a scrumhalf in a hurry of late anyway.