Tommy Bowe: The strings to Ospreys' utility back

After surprisingly quitting Irish rugby last season, Ireland's Tommy Bowe is enjoying a new lease of life at the Ospreys
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The Independent Online

Just a year ago Tommy Bowe felt his world had fallen apart. Having been left out of Ireland's 30-man World Cup squad bound for France, the Ulsterman could only watch with horror from his home in Belfast as Eddie O'Sullivan's side crashed out of the tournament at the pool stages.

To make matters worse, Brian Carney, the former rugby league star player picked ahead of him, had been a fringe player through the tournament.

Bowe could have been forgiven for thinking that his international career was over at the tender age of just 23.

Despite scoring on his Ireland debut against the USA in 2004 and winning caps against Japan, Argentina, Italy and France, Bowe returned to the international wilderness in February 2006 after a poor game in Ireland's Six Nations defeat in Paris.

Although he was recalled for Ireland's second string tour of Argentina in June 2007, an injury ended it prematurely and then came the bitter disappointment of missing out on a World Cup place to Carney.

But coaches often say you learn most about a player during the tough times, and Bowe's reaction to the biggest setback of his career has revealed a teak-tough character that is masked by his easy-going manner off the pitch.

"It was a horrible time," recalls Bowe. "Before the summer tour of Argentina I was thinking if I put two good performances in here hopefully I should be going to the World Cup and I spoke to Eddie (O'Sullivan) about it.

"But unfortunately I hurt myself in the first match and it didn't go the way I wanted it to do so. I didn't get the nod anyway and I was really disappointed.

"I didn't know whether to be annoyed or frustrated or what to do. What can you do? Mark McCall (the then Ulster coach) told me if I wanted to play to get back on the horse again."

Get back on the horse he did. And despite Ulster's horrendous season, his regular eye-catching performances helped to win back his place in the Ireland squad during last season's Six Nations.

He also produced a shock of his own when he announced he would be leaving Ulster after five seasons to join the Ospreys and by the end of the season had received the greatest accolade any player seeks: recognition by his peers.

Bowe beat off stiff competition from Leinster No.8 Jamie Heaslip and Wasps scrum-half Eoin Reddan to win the Irish Rugby Players Association Players' Player of the Year award.

And having made a flying start to his Ospreys career this season, the 24-year-old is not only looking like a definite start for Ireland during the autumn Test series as new coach Declan Kidney takes his bow, but the 6ft 3in, 15st giant is being mentioned as a potential Lions candidate.

Bowe equalled the Magners League try-scoring record with a touchdown against Ulster in the 43-0 rout at the Liberty Stadium in September, taking his tally to 30, while he also crossed the whitewash for tries against Cardiff Blues and Harlequins after only five appearances for the Ospreys.

"Even in the previous Ireland regime I found it astounding how they could keep Tommy out for so long," said Ospreys coach Sean Holley.

"He is a shoe-in for me in the Ireland team. He's on form, he is young, he is fit, he is versatile, defends well and is good in the air."

Holley's mention of versatility is reference to his decision to switch Bowe from right wing to outside centre, and Declan Kidney will have taken note. "I have most of my experience on the wing but I always wanted to play full-back or centre while I was at Ulster and when I came over here, one of the main things I discussed with the coaches was if I could have a go," says Bowe.

"I am more than happy to get a run at 13 and get the opportunity to add to different areas of my game. Obviously I play most of my rugby on the wing but it is great to be able to mix it up.

"Obviously I have no regrets coming here at all and I am looking to move on to bigger and better things."

Holley's decision to move Bowe to the midfield was as much about accommodating the burgeoning talents of wingers Shane Williams and Nikki Walker into the Ospreys backline as well.

But rather than find the competition for places intimidating, Bowe says it was just what he wanted to bring a new edge to his game after five seasons with Ulster.

"The thing that attracted me to the Ospreys in the beginning is that you have to turn up on Monday morning and fight for your position every week," adds Bowe.

"I am not being big-headed or anything but I was always confident enough that I would be playing every week with Ulster.

"But over here at the Ospreys, it is a different story. You have to bust your ass on a Monday morning to try to show what you are worth in training and if you don't perform at the weekend, you don't expect to be playing the following week."

Although firmly an Ospreys player now, Bowe admits he still keeps an eye out for Ulster's results.

And although Matt Williams' side have endured tough starts to their Magners League and Heineken Cup campaigns, he believes the Ravenhill outfit are heading in the right direction.

"You don't turn into a bad team overnight," he says. "Ulster won the Magners League a couple of years ago, I was there, and I think there is just a bit of a lack of confidence with the players. I don't think they are far off."

This story was sourced from International Rugby News