Tommy Bowe grateful to Australians for getting him back on the wing

‘I was pretty much told it was curtains when I hurt my hand’

Tommy Bowe training with the Lions at Scotch College in Melbourne, yesterday. The Ireland wing has recovered from a broken hand and will line out for the Lions in the  second Test against Australia. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Tommy Bowe training with the Lions at Scotch College in Melbourne, yesterday. The Ireland wing has recovered from a broken hand and will line out for the Lions in the second Test against Australia. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho


One of the most significant advancements within the vast Lions machine has been their ever-expanding and ever-improving medical and fitness back-up. Nothing illustrates the point more than Tommy Bowe’s recovery from a broken hand three weeks ago, although it wouldn’t have been possible without support from Australian medics either. Maybe the Aussies are going soft.

When it was feared he had suffered a fracture at Suncorp Stadium three Saturdays ago against the Reds, Bowe’s ensuing scan was facilitated by Ben Kelley opening his X-Radiology Clinic in Brisbane about 3k from the stadium.

After it confirmed the worst, Kelley refused any payment, but within an hour he had received a Lions’ jersey autographed by the entire squad and an autographed Lions rugby ball. By then though, Bowe was so sure his tour had been ended prematurely that he texted his girlfriend and parents, who were in Brisbane, with two words. “Game over.”

Whereupon the Brisbane-based surgeon Dr Peter Rowan, who had operated on Reds and rugby league players with similar injuries, entered the fray when contacted by the Irish team doctor Dr Eanna Halvey, who is part of the Lions’ medical entourage.

“I was pretty much told it was curtains when I hurt my hand,” recalled Bowe yesterday. “On the side of the pitch the doctor just said ‘I’m sorry’. I went for the X-rays and they all showed a fracture, a spiral fracture down through the metacarpal.”

Bowe was even more resigned to his fate until Falvey had the idea of calling Rowan at 11.45pm that night at Kelley’s clinic. “He was the one who said, ‘I’ve had rugby league guys coming back within three weeks, max’, so that was the shining light, the opportunity that there might be a chance to stay on.

“From all the people in the hospital at the time, everybody, a broken bone in the hand, meant six to eight weeks in a cast and that’s curtains. But Dr Rowan just mentioned it to Eanna, that he has had players coming back. It might be sore, you might have to dig in a bit but it’s possible.”

Bowe’s sense of debt to Rowan is incalculable. “In fairness to Dr Rowan, I think he normally sails or does something on a Sunday morning but he came in first thing to come and do the operation. So I owe a huge amount to him.”

Pretty much from the moment the operation was completed Bowe believed he could realistically target this Test, which ensured he and those close to him experienced a whirlwind of emotions. “My family are all over here and I just texted them all to say ‘game over’. I thought that was it. Then all of a sudden, when I got that bit of information at quarter to 12 at night, I was back in the hotel and it was a range of emotion; to go from the lows, thinking your tour is over so early into it to think that you have a chance. I didn’t know whether I’d be back in time for the Test matches but there was always that opportunity and to get picked in it now is an even higher emotion.”

In actual fact, Bowe confirmed yesterday that rumours of him straining to play last week were true, the flexibility in his hand having begun to return, but he was advised to give it another week. Bowe now has a full range of movement in his right hand, although will play with a protective hurling glove.

“Andrew Trimble fractured his hand a couple of years ago and had a hurling glove and played a couple of games in it for Ireland, so we got in touch with the same guys and they shifted it straight out to us from Ireland.”

Bowe’s selection ahead of Alex Cuthbert is testimony to his all-round qualities and the high value placed upon him by the coaching staff. He overcame knee surgery in December to make it back as a replacement in Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Saracens at Twickenham, but with his form of four years ago in the bank, did enough that day and in a couple of Pro12 games to earn his selection in the squad.

With his heads-up brand of rugby, Bowe had looked in prime form, and to miss out on the Test series would have been too cruel, but if he can hit the ground running after four months, three weeks oughtn’t to be much bother to him.

“It is an enormous game and certainly after the performance last weekend it’s tough watching it and it’s going to be difficult after two weeks out, but I felt good how I played in the previous matches. I’ve come back from a bad injury already earlier on the season. I think I was able to raise my game straight back up to the level I want to play at. I’ve trained with the boys the last week or so and I think that I’m definitely up to it.”

Missed out
Citing the players who have missed out, Bowe believes this team, or squad, is better than four years ago. “I think we have as good a team, as good a squad here, as you could get.”

He is both mindful of history repeating itself, but also creating history. “It’s 16 years since it’s been won. Everything felt in 2009, off the pitch and on the pitch, everything felt as if it was lined up for us to win that series. It was probably one of my biggest regrets and you chat to anyone involved in that tour, the disappointment of missing out on that.

“To go 2-0 down was just heartbreaking. We know the history behind it, we know what a great opportunity it is to get picked for the Lions, but if a Lions team can’t win and if we were to go another couple of years, it would seem ‘What’s going to happen with the Lions?’ This is a great opportunity for us. We know the history, we know how difficult it is to come down to the Southern Hemisphere and get a win.”

Summing up, he said: “We know it’s been such a long time and we feel that this could be our time.” No fears about Tommy Bowe being ready next Saturday. After a couple of unbearable weeks watching, he was ready yesterday.