'Exciting times' for Bowe as players fight to lay marker
IT is little wonder that Tommy Bowe has a smile on his face as he ambles into the period sitting-room at Carton House. It's been a while since the gang was together.
They won't all play on Saturday but Joe Schmidt has managed to assemble a who's who of Ireland's top talent in Maynooth for his first gathering – something that was denied Declan Kidney towards the end of his reign.
More than two years have passed since Bowe was joined by Johnny Sexton, Brian O'Driscoll, Sean O'Brien, Paul O'Connell, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney in the same game for Ireland – the 2011 World Cup exit to Wales.
The seven won't be on the same pitch this weekend as O'Connell and Sexton look set to miss out against Samoa, but hope remains that Schmidt could send out the strongest Ireland team for years to take on Australia on Saturday week.
"There are one or two missing but it makes for a lot of selection issues I'm sure for the coaches. You can see in training that everyone is fighting for a position," Bowe said.
"Teams have been put randomly together and Les (Kiss) will take the defensive side and Joe will take the attacking side and we're going hammer and tongs at each other the whole time trying to put our mark down.
"That's been great because every player feels that they have an opportunity to stake a claim for a position – and that of course then brings the intensity up another level. There were very few dropped balls, and the quality of the skill-work has been excellent.
"In the last couple of years there have always been injuries and it's very hard to get 30 players where everyone feels they are a genuine option and are taking each other on.
"It has been fun the last week because there's a real competitive spirit between everyone and that comes with the new coach because everyone sees it as a fresh start."
Before hooking up with the Ireland camp, Bowe spoke of how much he was looking forward to working with Schmidt after years of playing against his teams for Ulster and Ospreys.
The beauty of the New Zealander's game is the combination of simplicity and effectiveness, and the 29-year-old Monaghan man is enjoying getting to grips with it.
"There's definitely clarity. We've stripped back a lot. Getting used to the new calls, patterns and plays took a week or so, but now that we've done that, things are quite simple," he said.
"But at the same time there's good clarity at the minute and it's quite exciting. Although things are simple, there are definitely areas that we can elaborate on and make space and create holes, which is definitely something that for me as a winger is exciting.
"It's very early, but going on Joe's previous work with Leinster, I'd be excited about his ambition. We're just trying to get structures in place at the minute and it's still fairly early days.
"We've a big match this weekend but we've got a lot of things in place. It's quite simple but at the same time there are a few tweaks that will hopefully open up holes and stretch teams, which is something we'll be looking to do. It's fairly exciting times.
"He's come in here, laid down markers and tried to make things quite clear. He's focused a lot on the accuracy that we want.
"Players all have a specific purpose to do. There's no point just clocking off. Whether you're a dummy-runner or you're getting the ball, everyone has to be alive all of the time.
"I think that sort of urgency and intensity combined with the clarity has really pepped up the squad. Certainly in the last week or so, training sessions have been really, really intense – as intense as I've ever remembered them.
"There's been a huge step-up and that's something the players have really enjoyed in the past week."