Clipped wing Tommy Bowe happy to win ugly
NOTHING sums up the Joe Schmidt way like the unforgiving, redefined role of a wing wonder.
In his last Six Nations campaign back in 2012, Tommy Bowe ran in five tries and got his hands on the ball and made an average of five metres for every one of his 30 carries.
This year, the Monaghan man is still getting his hands on the ball with 10 carries for 42 metres, but his most notable contributions have come when chasing kicks and kick-offs.
So far, the man who occupies third place on Ireland's all-time try scorer list has made no inroads on the four-try gap between himself and Denis Hickie in second, but he doesn't appear to mind.
"To be part of a winning team, you'd be happy to do whatever," he said.
"I got a bit of ball in the autumn and I was happy with that. The first two games of this campaign, yeah, I suppose I've had to do other areas of the back three job that are very important and certainly areas Joe likes to concentrate a lot on.
"His wingers have to be able to play No 13 and have to be able to play No 15, they have to be good in the air, good at competing for the ball.
"Certainly in the last couple of weeks I've had to do a lot of that but against a team like the French and the Italians, they're big up front, big strong men so maybe putting the ball behind them and turning them, putting on that pressure and trying to force turnovers is an area I pride myself on so it's something I can try to use.
"Players will be disappointed not to score tries. We didn't have a huge amount of opportunities to score but in those two or three that we had we'd be disappointed ourselves that we didn't put them away.
"There were certain areas that were not just clinical enough and that's been highlighted that we've looked at and something we'd be looking to address."
In Bowe's mind, wins over France are to be relished. He has been on the wrong end of a few beatings from Les Bleus over the course of a stellar career and when he hears fans and pundits grumble about the style of play Joe Schmidt has used to achieve the excellent results his team are enjoying, he smiles.
"You kind of have to laugh. I've been part of games where we've been on the wrong side of losses to France - bad times," he said at the launch of Cadbury's sponsorship of the IRFU.
"It just shows where Irish rugby is and the expectation that's out there. To have beaten two of the southern hemisphere giants in the autumn, people are wanting to see more and are expecting more of this Irish team.
"We're a confident team, very ambitious. The first two games might not have been the prettiest but I think we're five points behind England on the points differential and I think we're in a good place.
"There's not that much pressure if we keep winning. If we don't win maybe. But we scored some nice tries last Six Nations from those sort of plays all right. Teams do their homework and they video analysts look back at old footage and it's amazing to see the work that goes on - it's also going to take the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, bits of individual talent, to break down teams."
The win was Ireland's ninth in succession, with last year's loss to England the only blot on their copybook since they went down to New Zealand in the dying stages of that fateful evening in November 2013.
Since then, dramatic end-games have become this team's stock in trade and Bowe says that their harder edge emanated from the gut-wrenching aftermath of Ryan Crotty's try.
"It (winning nine in a row) does give huge confidence, probably on the pitch whenever we do get into a sticky situation," he said.
"Like, at the weekend when France pulled it back and it could have been just that one score, they had us on the ropes, but we go back a lot to think about that All Blacks game.
"It plays still in my mind, could you have worked that bit harder in the last few minutes of the game to do whatever you could to stop them scoring that try? That rings out in your head going into that sort of situation.
"Having the ability to know in the last five, 10, 15 minutes that we can pull something out of the bag if we need to to win is a huge confidence-booster for a team. I think that's shown with us being able to get the nine wins in a row.
"I think our performance that day in the first half was probably the best performance under Joe Schmidt, I would say. The way we came out of the blocks in that first half was probably better than we've played since then.
"To know that we have that there and I suppose we might need a performance like that next weekend against England, because they're going to come fully loaded.
"Against England, a team that pride themselves on their defence, they are going to be a difficult team to break down. If we want to win that match we are probably going to have to take those one or two chances that we get."
Last week was bittersweet for Bowe whose grandmother Breda Bowe passed away in the days leading up to the game.
"She passed away at the start of last week, it was quite special," he reflected.
"She's still quite well known in Ulster for turning up with her blankets over her and her hot toddy - people still talk about her. She was a big supporter of me and I think it was nice to get that victory for my family, for my dad.
"I think playing in the Irish jersey is not just about you on the pitch. It's about the people and that Irish pride … yeah it was a nice one to win."
That victory is history now, however, and England await in a fixture that will define this year's Championship. Nothing focuses the mind like the old enemy, while Schmidt's ruthless selection policy is also keeping players on their toes as the example of Gordon D'Arcy offers a cautionary tale.
"Gordon has 80, 90 caps for Ireland, one of the stand-out performers the last 10 years, and he was playing for the Wolfhounds a couple of weeks ago and went back playing for Leinster," Bowe agreed.
"There is always young guys coming through, wanting to take your place. It's a cut-throat sport. Players all think we're the best and it's about doing whatever you can to impress the coach to try and get yourself into that team. That competitiveness is in the Ireland squad at the minute."