Tommy Bowe ‘nervous but excited’ at prospect of emerging victorious in Lions series decider
Ireland international far from risk averse and at 29 this could be his last Lions tour
British and Irish Lions Tommy Bowe tackles Australia’s Joe Tomane during the second Test. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
He won’t like the description, but aside from recovering from a broken hand Tommy Bowe is also becoming something of an old hand at this big-game lark.
Now 29, although Eddie O’Sullivan and his detractors took some convincing, he has been an established international for six years, has played in a Grand Slam decider and hosts of other big Six Nations games, a World Cup and, of course, as a two-time tourist this will be his fifth Lions Test.
It helped his spirits no end that his girlfriend Lucy was here while he was recovering from the operation on his fractured hand, and while she has gone home, his parents Paul and Ann have been here for the duration of the tour. They are part of the 150-plus supporters travelling with Trevor Brennan Tours (whose ambassadors, as well as Brent Pope, are Alan Quinlan and Peter Clohessy. No kidding. You couldn’t make it up.)
Bowe met his parents last night rather than leave camp today for what will be a long day. He’s not a fan of night time kick-offs, but prefers them to the 1pm matches as he likes a nice sleep on the day of games. He’ll load up on his carbs during the day, chill out as best he can, maybe take a nap and come kick-off will put on some tunes in his ears, maybe Kings of Leon or The Killers.
Not that the advancing years and the experience of so many games has eased the pre-match tension in his body. “I was as nervous as I’ve been going into any game, last week,” he said yesterday after the Lions’ sun-drenched captain’s run in the olde-world charm of the North Sydney Oval, with its original buildings from the SCG.
“After coming back from my hand injury, I was nervous and that’s very important. I’m nervous already about the match tomorrow, from the excitement about what is at stake. I’ve been on Lions tours and played in Tests – so I can maybe enjoy it a bit more, but the nerves and excitement are there about the prospect of doing something that hasn’t been done for such a long time. That really excites me.”
During a career in which he has set all manner of landmarks with his potent try-scoring ratio, he has also been garlanded with individual honours, there have though, been less than there might have been in a team environment, aside from that slam in 2009 with Ireland.
Later that year though, would come the disappointment of losing the Lions series in South Africa, despite Bowe playing every minute of the series and finishing second behind Jamie Roberts for the Player of the Series. That would have driven him through his recovery from knee surgery last December to make the squad, and again from hand surgery on this tour.
“I just remember the disappointment of it all,” he recalled of losing in South Africa. “I remember the disappointment of the second Test when we lost to that last kick, I just hope it doesn’t come down to that again. Everybody will be giving everything tomorrow. We know exactly what we need to do and we want to play some rugby. We were a little bit passive defensively last week, we let Australia take the game to us and we need to reverse that this week.”
No winger enjoys being confined to merely chasing and defensive duties, however well Bowe may have executed them last week, and to make only four carries in the entire game (only one more than George North) and one pass must have been a source of frustration to him.
The return of Jamie Roberts especially, along with Seán O’Brien and Toby Faletau may give the Lions more go-forward ball with which to bring their wingers into play.
“I hope with these lads coming in it will help us get over the gain-line, get some ball because that’s what I want in any game. It’s exciting to be able to run off big ball carriers.
“But we need to get on the ball more. I don’t think George or I really got the ball last week and we need to get involved more. Rob Howley has spoken to us this week and we need to go looking for it more. But we need to hold onto the ball and have a bit more possession.”
After two down days in Noosa, Bowe maintained there had been enough work done in the last three days. “We had a great session there today, very upbeat, good skill levels, and that’s exactly what we need before a tough match tomorrow. We’ve had three, tough intense days of training. We had a nice couple of days off in Noosa to get away from it for a bit, but certainly the last three days training has been intense. There’s no real feeling like it’s the last game of the season – tomorrow is a do or die match and we’re fully up for it.”
There’s also a recognition within the squad that it is time to deliver. “There is a huge amount of emotion in the squad at the moment. We realise it’s been 16 years since we last won a Lions series. There is incredible hype and excitement surrounding this last match. So many people hope we can finish it off.
“A 2-0 win would have been an amazing way to do it but instead we suffered the disappointment of losing a try in the last six minutes. It was heartbreaking but we’ve dealt with it, we’ve regrouped and we’ll make sure we leave everything out there on the pitch tomorrow night.”
It’s hard to dispute the Australian impression that the Wallabies have a greater sense of risk about their play than the more constrained Lions, but when he was asked what risks they would be prepared to take if behind in the last 15 minutes, Bowe laughed and said: “We’ll do anything to win.”
Some risk taking a little earlier probably wouldn’t upset Bowe too much, but in the heel of the hunt, he won’t be averse taking a risk or two. At 29, this could be Bowe’s last shot at Lions’ immortality too.