Tommy Bowe keen to get in to stride with run of games
Ulster winger confident the province are going to be competing this year
Ulster’s Tommy Bowe in Pro12 action against Treviso at Ravenhill last month. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ulster’s season was a long time on the league runway before it finally took off last week at Liberty Stadium. Timely for the province, not for the Ospreys old boy Tommy Bowe, who has not played against his former club since he moved back from Swansea at the end of the 2012 season.
Andrew Trimble replaced Bowe last weekend after the winger failed to recover from a dead leg he sustained on his return to action in the bonus-point win over Treviso at Ravenhill the previous week.
Early season, Bowe had been missing, recovering since the end of the Lions Tour, when a rest was enforced by the IRFU Player Management Program. The doctors then swooped to do a wrist procedure. Now with a recalibrated return schedule the Irish winger has eyes on the Heineken Cup and the back drop of a Guinness Series with Samoa, Australia and New Zealand next month.
“My wrist has been something of an ongoing problem for a couple of years,” he says. “It was a case of getting it cleaned up. They knew I wasn’t going to be playing for six or seven weeks so the decision was made to get it cleaned and fixed before the start of the season.
“With the player protocols they were holding us back so I knew I wasn’t going to be playing anyway until the Rabo (week) three, so it was a good opportunity. If I’d aggravated it again during the season I could have missed some crucial matches so the decision was made to get it sorted.”
It has been a couple of weeks of decisions as Ravenhill prepares for the visit of Leicester Tigers tomorrow. Nick Williams and Robbie Diack signed contract extensions and this week Ruan Pienaar defied popular opinion by choosing Belfast over Toulon.
Combined with breaking Ospreys’ home winning streak of 11 matches, Pienaar’s agreement for three years has reinforced Ulster’s belief of themselves as a team with ambition, his signature a statement of intent.
There is also the bragging rights of holding their star player while Leinster lose Johnny Sexton and nervously deal with the contracts of Jamie Heaslip and Seán O’Brien with the complication of foreign interest.
“When there was all the speculation about him leaving, Ulster were confident that he would stay,” says Bowe.
“For a player of the ability of Ruan Pienaar he could probably pick any team in the world. He obviously sees something here he likes. It’s a great commitment to the team.
“Robbie (Diack) and Nick Williams signed as well. You just have to look at the impact Nick had on the team last year. His ball carrying ability . . . I’m sure if you put together a highlight reel and sent it off to most clubs around the world they’d be fairly keen to get his name.”
Ulster beat Leicester 41-7, when they met at Ravenhill the season before last on their way to the Heineken Cup final. The English side could bring six Lions with them this time but there are few misgivings or unease in Ulster. Parity of esteem is firmly established.
“We know exactly what Leicester are going to bring,” says Bowe. “But we won’t be fearing them. They are coming to Ravenhill and we’ll be going out there to play the rugby we want to play.
“Now we have Ruan back and myself and Rory (Best) are available we’ve our full quota of players ready to go. The strength and depth is . . . just in the back three we’ve Michael Allen, whose playing exceptionally well, Trimby, myself, Jared Payne and a whole load of others. That’s pretty much throughout the squad. We’re definitely going to be competing this year.”
There is also Paddy Jackson, probably the most put upon outhalf on the island. Man of the match last week and six from six kicks was a personal triumph and sand in the eyes of his doubters. By now he knows vultures gather at every game waiting for the first signs of weakness. Bowe sees it through a different lens.
“More than anything, it’s his game management,” he says. “He’s focused, and he’s looking forward to getting out on the pitch and getting the ball in his hands and he’s orchestrating very well .”
Some of those are the ingredients Bowe seeks to quickly assume. He’s been canned for some time now and Joe Schmidt will be surely watching.
“I need to get a run of games,” he says.
“That’s obviously my focus. I need to get my match fitness up and get my confidence with the ball in hand. I want to be involved in either scoring, setting up tries or getting a feel for the game.
“And the only way to do that is to play matches.”