Tense Tommy Bowe refuses to look beyond the ‘now’

Such is the absolute adherence throughout the Ireland squad to the mantra of living in the moment, that even a couple of weeks out from the World Cup, Tommy Bowe was unable to allow himself a glimpse of the tournament to come, never mind the thought of playing in it.

The competition for places, first to make the final cut of 31 players for the World Cup squad, and now to earn a starting place in Saturday’s opening Pool D clash with Canada, was and is so intense that there was an understandable if frustrating reluctance to step out of the ‘now’ and look beyond it.

A distinctly uncharacteristic below-par performance in the final warm-up Test against England at Twickenham will have only increased the Ulster wing’s desire to make the most of every moment in front of him on the training ground.

Bowe, 31, may be the most experienced and prolific of try scorers in the squad, with 63 caps and lying just one behind Denis Hickie’s 29 tries in the all-time Irish list, and with only Brian O’Driscoll’s record of 46 tries ahead of them.

Yet the current contest for wing places is so intense that speaking before the penultimate pre-tournament fixture at home to Wales and ahead of Joe Schmidt’s squad selection, Bowe was genuinely taken aback at the suggestion he was already in the travelling party that has now reached Cardiff.

“I think my reaction says it all. As confident as you would like to think I would be, I feel a huge amount of pressure on myself, not to get into the team but to make the squad,” Bowe told the Irish Examiner.

“Having played the last Six Nations I would like to feel confident but at the same time I think that’s the strength of the coaching staff and the strength of Joe and more so the strength of the lads who’ve trained this pre-season, that in the back three there is the most competition for places out of any area in the squad. I was feeling the pressure with the likes of Dave Kearney, Keith Earls looking electric, Lukey (Fitzgerald), Simon (Zebo); there are a huge amount of fellas that could easily be picked and play in every match in the World Cup.

“So it’s stressful in the fact that you want to go out there and do your best, put your hand up, get one over the other guys but at the same time, the back five, we train with each other in the gym every day pretty much, we’re doing speed sessions, skills sessions together, so there’s great craic between us all but we’re all fully aware that there’s going to be some guys missing out.

“I suppose in the past you may have had an inkling as to who’s favourites, who’s not but I don’t think there’s anyone who thinks they haven’t got a right shot at it.”

Bowe’s caution was understandable given the calibre of the wings Schmidt was forced to leave at home, chiefly Andrew Trimble and Fergus McFadden and that pressure he spoke of also reduced the temptation to look ahead to a tournament tantalisingly close to home.

“Everyone I talk to, they’re telling me, ‘jeez, I managed to pick up tickets for the Canada match’ or some of the lucky few who’s got tickets for the France game; they’re talking to me about hotel rooms, that they’re staying God knows where and getting to the game on the train.

“Everyone’s got these plans and I’d have loved to have been able to say to them ‘I know, it’s going to be some atmosphere, I can’t wait’ but again, I really did feel the pressure and didn’t want to get ahead of myself.

“If I got ahead of myself and didn’t make the squad or if I don’t get picked for the team I’m going to be gutted. The focus in camp is just so much about getting ourselves doing whatever little bit today that I can do that can impress. And as well as that, for me, with the injuries I’ve had in the past, I’m trying to keep myself fit and that’s a huge part of me as well, I have to work very hard on physio and rehab and prehab and doing those small little things constantly just to keep my body in the sort of shape that I need to be at the top too.

“So in the back of my mind of course I know there’s all this expectation, so much hype, so much excitement now it’s so close and I know going by the last World Cup in New Zealand the following we had and how crazy the atmosphere outside our team hotels were, that by being so close to home it’s going to be twice that.

So, it’s going to be a very exciting tournament but unfortunately you don’t dare to step outside of what’s in front of you.”

What is behind Bowe at this stage offers some illumination. A veteran of three World Cup pre-seasons, he failed to make the cut for Eddie O’Sullivan in 2007 and started for Declan Kidney in New Zealand four years ago. Yet never before has Ireland been in such a great position to succeed on the biggest stage.

“We’ve never made a semi-final and that’s something with the teams we’ve had in years gone by we probably should have made it to that stage. But up until probably only two years ago we’d one won Grand Slam in 61 years and won one Six Nations in I don’t know how long, so while as provinces we’ve been very successful over the last 10 or 15 years we haven’t been as an international team.

“We’d won Triple Crowns and been very close to winning the Six Nations but it’s not until the last two years for us to win back-to-back and be that bit more successful. So that’s something that we’ll hopefully try and build on, that success, over this World Cup and going on past that.”

Asked for his first World Cup memory, Bowe instantly recalls the impression made on him as an 11-year-old by Jonah Lomu in 1995 and also the first man to make an impact on the All Black giant.

“I remember being really excited by the fact that Simon Geoghegan was the first person in the whole World Cup to actually tackle him. He got him around the ankles. Lomu steamrolled everyone but Geoghegan was the one fella who managed to get him to ground .

“As a supporter you always remember the bits around your own country I suppose but the World Cup is a spectacle and when it comes to rugby it’s the pinnacle.

“As a professional rugby player, to be successful in the Six Nations means a huge, huge amount but the World Cup is a step above it again and the pinnacle when it comes to representing your country. It’s the top of what you ca do for your country as a player and something every player aspires to.”

You see, it is put to Bowe, he actually is looking forward to the World Cup.

The suggestion is met by a smile and a chuckle.

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