THE head doctor on the British and Irish Lions Tour has said Tommy Bowe's return to fitness in time for the second Test "will become the stuff of Lions' legend".
The Ulster winger broke his hand two weeks ago but has defied the medical odds and was this morning named in the team for Saturday's game against Australia - something which head doctor James Robson hailed as "unbelievable".
The injury normally requires four to six weeks recovery but the unique circumstances of the tour meant the 29-year-old takes the place of Alex Cuthbert on the right wing.
“Tommy’s recovery is up there with the best stories,” Robson told the 'Daily Telegraph'.
“The only way he can cap this off is to be selected for Saturday and score the winning try. I am hoping it will become the stuff of Lions’s legend.
“People will say ’Tommy Bowe, bloody hell, how did he do that?’ The impact (of his return) is bound to lift everyone.
“The immediate feeling was ’Oh my God, we have just lost somebody who we greatly respected and was back to his full peak. We experienced an immense low, then a glimmer of hope and then over two or three days a feeling that ’Shoot, we actually might pull this off."
Speaking to the Telegraph, Dr Robson said that it was at first thought Bowe's tour was over when he fractured his second metacarpal - the long bone in his hand - during the win against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane on June 8.
However, the Lions medical team went to Dr Peter Rowan, an orthopaedic surgeon in Brisbane who specialised in hand and shoulder injuries, and he offered a slight hope.
The doctor felt that if three pins were inserted to bind the bone together, the Ireland star could play within three to four weeks.
“The specialist said he had seen one or two people come back early, maybe not in the time frame we were wanting, but why don’t we do it and give it a go,” Robson said.
“If the surgeon had said no chance, that would have been a different kettle of fish. But he said we had a reasonable chance of three to four weeks, and we thought: ’why don’t we make it two to three weeks?
However, for it to work, Dr Robson said that Bowe had to be fully committed.
“The player has to be positive about it and understand it is not without a small risk, that there is a possibility of failure and that it might be uncomfortable and that he is going to have to work bloody hard,” he told the Telegraph.
“We say to the player ’do you want to do it? We are prepared to help you. And Tommy put his hand up and said ’Yes, I bloody do.”
“You can’t praise Tommy highly enough. You have to have a special person to be able to cope with that regime we did have to say to him that at some point it may go wrong and he may have to go home.”
The intensive rehabilitation programme involved more than 20 people and saw the injury being iced six or seven times a day, and included the winger taking medication, changing his diet and undergoing physio sessions.
And it has worked.
By the end of first week Bowe was starting to do gentle grip skills. Soon after he was catching tennis balls of the wall.
By the second week he was starting to catch rugby balls again.
The green light to return to full training came last Friday.
“People often ask why these sports guys get back a lot earlier and I usually say there are two reasons," Dr Rowan told the Telegraph.
"One, they tend to go back before they are 100 per cent healed and secondly they are tough these guys. They play with some discomfort and hide it whereas you or I would probably take a few more weeks before we took up sports again.”