Mixed emotions for Bowe as Ulster pressure grows
IT does not get any easier for Ulster. After Tuesday night's dispiriting home defeat by the Ospreys, Brian McLaughlin's men must make the difficult trip to Firhill for tomorrow night's clash with a Glasgow side who are still well in the hunt for a place in Magners League play-offs.
If the three-day turn-around was not enough of a challenge for Ulster, they must also face a team who have been boosted by the return to fitness of Scotland captain and scrum-half Chris Cusiter and star flanker John Barclay.
Ulster - who will be without injured Rory Best (calf) and Paddy Wallace (thigh) for the Glasgow game - are still reeling from their 38-27 loss to the Ospreys, which saw boos echo around Ravenhill at the final whistle. These may have been partly directed at Scottish referee Neil Patterson, whose decisions repeatedly frustrated the home side. However, there were definitely jeers also directed at the players, who contributed largely to their downfall against a side still recovering from from their Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat at Biarritz three days previously.
It means Ulster remain four points ahead of Connacht, but now with a game more played -- which will become two more tomorrow, as the westerners' next league game is not until Sunday against a weakened Munster at the Sportsground. Defeat would leave Ulster with just the trip to Edinburgh on April 25 and the final Ravenhill showdown with Connacht on the second weekend in May to secure their Heineken Cup spot for next season.
The fact that it was Ulster old boy and fans' favourite Tommy Bowe who pounced for the final try to copper-fasten the Ospreys victory -- denying the home side what could turn out to be a crucial losing bonus point -- made the experience doubly painful.
Bowe has become one of the top wingers in world rugby since his switch to Wales a couple of seasons ago and, while the Monaghan man was delighted to help secure a win which puts the Ospreys right back in the play-off mix ahead of tomorrow's RDS meeting with league leaders Leinster, he admitted to having conflicting feelings facing his old team.
"It's a case of mixed emotions for me, coming back here and scoring at the end," said Bowe. "I had a great five or six years with Ulster. It was my first time coming back to play, my first game here for the Ospreys.
"We were very disappointed boys on Saturday, but with two big matches this week, we couldn't mope. We're obviously delighted with this win which puts us in a good position to achieve our goal, which is a place in the knock-out stages.
"It's looking positive. We have plenty of work to do, though if we are going to get there."
Bowe's Ireland team-mate Andrew Trimble was one of Ulster's try scorers, but also culpable in the defensive lapses that contributed to the defeat and the winger says the squad have to pull themselves together to save their season.
"It's so disappointing," said Trimble. "We're struggling with small things; that's what is costing us matches. We expected Ospreys to fall off, but they didn't. Now we have to deliver against Glasgow.
"Two games three days apart is tough, but with what is at stake, I'm pretty confident we'll turn up."