Rugby Union

Ulster hosts Ospreys still clinging to PRO14 play-off hopes

Ulster's Tommy Bowe spent four years playing for Friday's opponents Ospreys, but will put any sentiment aside when the Welsh side visit Kingspan Stadium this evening
By John Flack

Guinness PRO14: Ulster v Ospreys (Friday, Kingspan Stadium, 7.35pm)

TOMMY Bowe insists Ulster haven’t given up hope of securing a PRO14 play-off place but admits the mathematics of doing so mean that a win over Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium this evening is an essential part of the equation.

However, as he looks ahead to the game against his former employers, the Ireland and British Lions winger is confident Ulster can do what is required in the aftermath of a hugely impressive 32-20 win over Edinburgh at Murrayfield seven days ago.

That result left Ulster eight points adrift of the Scots in fourth place in the Conference B table, with a game in hand.

Possibly, more pertinently, Benetton Treviso are just a point behind in the standings and Ulster need to maintain their current position to stay in contention for a European Champions Cup berth.

However, Bowe says that he prefers to adopt a glass half-full approach in the knowledge that a PRO14 play-off would guarantee top-flight European rugby for the province next season.

After tonight’s game, Ulster are at home to Glasgow and then travel to Munster to complete the regulation campaign but the Monaghan native, who will hang up his boots at the end of the season, isn’t looking beyond tonight’s game.

“We’re always looking up the table and you don’t want to be looking behind you,” said Bowe, who starts on the bench tonight as head coach Jono Gibbes has named an unchanged backline.

“We’ve got to be pushing for the play-offs. We’ve got to be pushing for the top, as a squad, as a team and a club,” said the 33-year-old.

“It’s has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but hopefully we’re back in it now and it’s in our hands to really push forward and see where we go from there.”

Bowe is looking forward to renewing some acquaintances on and off the pitch after the game with the Welsh region, who are in a rich vein of form tonight, having won four in a row.

Ospreys are coached by former Ulster assistant and 1999 European Cup winner Allen Clarke, who stepped into the hot seat vacated by Steve Tandy in January.

Bowe spent four happy years at Liberty Stadium between 2008 and 2012, although there was occasionally a collective sense of underachievement.

“We had two European Cup quarter-finals, we lost to Munster badly, and we played over in Biarritz in a game we could have, should have, won.” he added.

“Given the squad that we had, when you look at teams, in Europe, we did underachieve.

“That would be one of my biggest disappointments in that we weren’t able to get to that next stage.

“I think going over there was going to be a challenge for me. I’d been playing decent rugby but I couldn’t break my way into the Irish team, I remember I got into the SIx Nations eventually and but I was finding it hard.

“I needed to do something different, I needed to test myself, I made the move. It wasn’t an easy decision to go over there.

“To go to a new club, you have to push yourself, you have to train that bit harder, you have to prove yourself. Especially with the standard of players that they had over there at the time.

“I had to push my game on. I learnt a lot, I enjoyed the style of rugby that they played, and it was an enjoyable four years.”

There will be no room for sentiment tonight for Bowe as Ulster bid for that play-off spot with a degree of renewed confidence following the Edinburgh win.

“Yeah, there was great excitement after the game. It was a good result for us, to get the bonus point over there. For us, it was important we put out a good performance and last weekend was a good performance.” he said.

“The guys are on a bit of a high but one win is not going to make our season. We have to back it up this weekend and we’ve a couple of big games coming up, two of them at home.

“We’ll try and build on that and we’re looking forward to Ospreys this weekend. For me, it’ll be a special game, and Clarkie coming back, it’ll be a big one for him as well. There’s a lot to play for.”

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