Tommy Bowe determined that his Ireland career is far from over
THE wry smile was unmistakable. The faint shake of the head. Not again. Not here.
Jamie Roberts had just finished Ireland’s Six Nations title hopes with a third Welsh try when Tommy Bowe was thrown on with nothing left to salvage.
He was on the Principality Stadium pitch all of 49 seconds when he came infield to take a pass from Simon Zebo. Roberts and Luke Charteris converged on him and as Bowe entered the gap, the leg buckled beneath him.
“I felt the leg snap, I heard it and I knew what had happened.”
It didn’t doctors take long to diagnose the broken ankle but the Ulster winger already knew. He tried to hobble from the field but in the end, the golf buggy had to come and get him. Again.
It had been just 12 minutes into the World Cup quarter-final defeat by Argentina some 18 months previous that Tomas Lavanini had gone low and the impact left Bowe with a torn cruciate knee ligament that kept him out of the game for a year.
When he went to ground against Wales, the half-baked smile was his way of keeping the rush of emotions in check.
“My face coming off was you’d either laugh or you’d cry, and I didn’t want to cry in front of 80,000 people.
“I have some great memories from the Millennium Stadium but unfortunately that’s the last two times I’ve been there I’ve had to come off on that buggy.
“I just couldn’t believe it. To get on to the pitch for the last minute or two, it was very frustrating to have to come off. I was on the pitch for maybe 40 seconds.
“My body was starting to really feel back to its best again and to have to go off again was very frustrating.”
It had been a long and arduous road back from that World Cup quarter-final to recapturing the green shirt, if even for a fleeting moment.
The natural inclination has been to assume that he would cut his losses now in terms of an international career but that couldn’t be further from his mind.
He has another year to run on his IRFU contract and the 33-year-old plans to keep going even beyond that.
“I’m definitely not going to write myself off, definitely not. It’s a broken bone.
“If it was my knee again, listen, it would be something I’d have to consider, ‘what am I doing here?’
“But a broken bone is fine, it fixes well.
“For me, I did feel like my body and everything was getting back to where I wanted to be, to get to that level to play in the Six Nations. To get injured and go back again is very frustrating.
“I know what it took to get back and I have another year of my contract next year, and I have the ambition, I still want to push on and hopefully get myself back into the Ireland setup again.
“I’ll have a good pre-season under my belt with Ulster and see how we go from there,” said Bowe, whose wife Lucy gave birth to their first child Emma 11 days ago.
Indeed, his aspirations of helping Ulster salvage something from a rocky season are something he also refuses to let go of.
While he concedes that his contribution will probably not be made on the field between now and the end of the season, he hopes to be fit enough to put himself back into training and add his competitive edge there.
Surgery to have a plate set against his fibula was successful and he has moved off crutches to the moon boot, and hopes to be running again soon.
Last Friday night’s draw at home with Cardiff Blues was another blow to their hopes of making the Pro12 playoffs, particularly knowing that they have in-form provincial rivals Munster and Leinster to come in their final three fixtures.
“It’s been a frustrating season. We’ve just blown so hot and cold. We’ve pulled out some great performances and then back it up the following week with a disappointing performance.
“When we play at home, we’re a good side, and we expect to win those games. If we want to be at the top of this league and to go on and win it, we have to be beating teams like Cardiff at home – especially having beaten them convincingly away from home earlier in the season.
“We have a squad that can do it, it’s just a case of pulling out the performances that we need.”