Energised Bowe of a strong mind to reach the top again
Monaghan man finds himself wearing number 13 for Ulster in early league matches
Ulster’s Tommy Bowe: “I feel fit. I feel probably as good as I felt in a few years. If that call came I’d be more than delighted.” Photograph: Giuseppe Fama/Inpho
Tommy Bowe epitomises a particular character trait that transcends the talent required to be a professional sportsperson.
Given his injury profile, particularly in recent seasons, it’s difficult not to marvel at the mental strength the 33-year-old has displayed in successfully rehabilitating a broken leg, a shattered knee and a shredded hamstring. And that is not the full list.
Last March he was gone in 60 seconds, coming onto the pitch in the 80th minute of a Six Nations Championship game against Wales and then departing on a stretcher with a fractured fibula and damaged ankle. That came less than half a year after spending 11 months out with a serious knee injury.
Bowe’s honesty in the past in raising concern about the mental health issues that sportspeople must deal with, principally through injury or loss of form, is important. People can easily see the physical signs but not the mental scarring, and it is a reminder to delve beneath the surface.
He was philosophical in reflecting on the setback in March. Speaking at the launch of the Subway Sports for Primary Schools, he recalled: “With the broken fibula, I knew it was just a broken bone. It wasn’t sore at the time, but I heard it crack.I had to get a plate in it.
“There was a debate whether I got a plate or not with the surgeon, but [once] we decided I know it’s solid. So from my ankle and fibula part of view I wasn’t too worried about it. Obviously being out for 11 months with my knee, there was always that worry, ‘what the hell, is this ever going to get better?’
“Coming into that new year last year I felt that I was really starting to find my form. I wasn’t having to do all the exercise and warm-ups that I needed to try and get myself going, and I actually felt really good. I suppose that time off being injured I got maybe eight weeks to stick to upper body and strengthen my knee that bit more.”
He luxuriated in a full pre-season and the evidence of his rude health came from a GPS reading in the opening Guinness Pro14 match of the season against the Cheetahs when he hit a top speed of 9.7 metres-per-second; his best ever was 9.8.
For a variety of reasons Bowe has found himself wearing the number 13 jersey in the first couple of league matches, a position he played early in his Ulster career and more frequently during his time at the Ospreys. He has also played there for the Lions and the Barbarians.
Bowe has been energised by the challenge, enjoying his time alongside Stuart McCloskey and under the direction of Christian Lealiifano at outhalf.
He’s happy to continue there for the time being. “I’d like to give it a good go, to get a good run of games and grow into the position. Even at the weekend [against Treviso], a simple skip pass to 15, and your man went outside me; that’s just a little bit of rustiness in getting my timing right. So small things like that take a little bit of adjusting to.
“I am winger predominantly, I have been playing wing most of my career. I enjoy the wing, I know the wing inside out. From a speed and acceleration point of view, I actually feel good. I feel like I can slot in on the wing or at 13.”
It will be interesting to see whether Ulster persevere with Bowe in the centre when the Champions Cup comes around next month, and the stocks are replenished by unrestricted access to Luke Marshall, Jared Payne and Darren Cave. Charles Piutau can play there too.
Capacity for the role
If Bowe hangs onto the 13 jersey Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will be able to judge the Monaghan man’s capacity for the role through the prism of the elite European competition, assuming that Garry Ringrose is not quite match hardened at that point. Payne, Marshall and Bundee Aki may have their own designs on the shirt.
Bowe said: “I know Joe and Andy Farrell were both at training a few weeks ago. I haven’t really spoken to them. I’ve spoken to Les, who passed the message through Joe; it’s the same message, he just wants me to get game time. I haven’t played since March. I’ve four games under my belt.
“My goal is always to represent my country and Ulster. There’s no point playing professional rugby if you’re not going to aim for the top. I feel fit, I feel probably as good as I felt in a few years. If that call came I’d be more than delighted. I know I can do the job.”