Tommy Bowe centre of attention as reshuffled Ulster enter Dragons’ den

Veteran wing Tommy Bowe will be the centre of attention as Ulster seek to consolidate their Guinness PRO14 position when they travel to the compact and atmospheric Rodney Parade to face Bernard Jackman’s Dragons this evening.

Tommy Bowe centre of attention as reshuffled Ulster enter Dragons’ den

The Ulster, Ireland, and former Lions star has shrugged off a litany of serious injuries and trips to the operating theatre that would have convinced many an individual to hang up the boots. Not the laidback 32-year-old from Monaghan though.

Bowe, who has amassed a league record of 62 tries, will have a rare run-out in midfield alongside returning international Stuart McCloskey while his Ireland captain Rory Best starts from the bench as Ulster shuffle their resources in an attempt to keep their number two slot in Conference B.

Les Kiss gives another Academy player a start with flanker Greg Jones joining fellow 21-year-old Dubliner Nick Timoney in the back-row alongside international Sean Reidy.

But it is Ulster’s back-line that looks very potent, with Paul Marshall, after his emotional thoughts earlier this week on his two-year-old son’s cancer, starting alongside Christian Lealiifano who remains at captain with Louis Ludik, Charles Piutau, and Craig Gilroy making up the back three.

It is Bowe, however, who just seems to continue as if he has never gone away, and even after his four years with the Ospreys, he will be making his 161st appearance for Ulster and hoping to add to his 62 tries against a team who have been concentrating on winning on their new £750,000 (€850,000) hybrid pitch this season.

“It’s one of the tougher places to go,” said a relaxed Bowe.

“Nowadays, in professional sport, we’re very fortunate at the Kingspan where you’ve got beautiful changing rooms, great crowds, stadiums, the whole lot — whereas Rodney Parade is a lot smaller.

“It’s more old school but I think it’s great, it’s a great atmosphere whenever you go there.

“You warm up and the supporters are right on top of you, and they will be on your back and try to intimidate you. So you need to be in the right frame of mind.

“We were very disappointed with last weekend’s performance so heading into Europe next week, we need to step it up another level.”

Bowe played in the 52-25 drubbing of the Welsh side back in September.

“I think this their first game at home in a while, so they’ll be going flat out.

“We’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot a bit lately,” explained Bowe whose enthusiasm for the game never seems to wane.

“I’m great. I’m really enjoying my rugby. The body feels good. I’m enjoying training, I’m playing with a smile on my face.”

Any talk of retirement, then, is firmly on the backburner. “If you had asked me last year, I maybe would have been thinking ‘ah, jeez, I don’t know if I can go on.’ But the way my body feels now, I’d love to keep going.

“I don’t want to give up just yet, no.”

Dragons have Gavin Henson back at fly-half following their 54-10 flailing at the hands of Leinster last week in Dublin.

Dragons:

A O’Brien; A Hewitt, A Warren, J Dixon, J Rosser; G Henson, D Babos; B Harris, L Belcher, L Fairbrother, J Davies, M Screech, A Wainwright, O Griffiths (capt), J Benjamin.

Replacements:

E Shipp, G Ellis, S Hobbs, R Landman, B Roach, C Davies, A Robson, P Howard.

Ulster:

C Piutau; C Gilroy, T Bowe, S McCloskey, L Ludik; C Lealiifano (capt), P Marshall; S van der Merwe, J Andrew, R Kane, A O’Connor, K Treadwell, G Jones, S Reidy, N Timoney.

Replacements:

R Best, C Black, A Warwick, M Dalton, C Henry, J Cooney, P Nelson, A Trimble.

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