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Bowe puts big smile back on Irish faces

Tommy Bowe is the Laughing Cavalier of Irish rugby, a man never too far away from a smile and never too slow to divide defenders like Martin Johnson divides opinions.

It was the Emyvale flier's facility for executing the unlikely that was the crucial difference between a soul-destroying second successive defeat for Ireland and a revitalising sixth win over England in seven matches.

"The championship is out of our hands to an extent with France unbeaten. But there's still a lot to play for," said Bowe, possibly in relation to the dreaded consolation prize of the out-of-fashion Triple Crown

For sure, the championship is about as recoverable as youth to an old man. Overall, however, there is so much more to a career, individual and collective, than the idyllic Grand Slam.

There was a time when one-off wins over England, such as that from Simon Geoghegan's stirring try in 1994, were all that kept Irish rugby from falling into the category of cannon fodder for others.


At the moment, Ireland see more good days than bad. Declan Kidney will plot and scheme to maintain this trend all the way to the 2011 World Cup. Of course, it can all change so quickly. France showed them that in Paris.

"Every team slips up every now and again. If we'd lost against England the doubters would have been out once more. But within the squad we know the talent we have and what we can do," said Bowe.

"We got off to a good start but our indiscipline let England back into it. We paid for that when we were three points down with seven minutes to go."

The bank of experience that resides in this Irish squad was summoned from the bottom of their boots to sucker-punch England with one sublime piece of first-phase set-play.

"It was looking a bit dodgy but, like Wales last year, we showed a never-say-die attitude. To come back like that is extra special," continued Bowe.

"Heading into the final five minutes, the pressure was really on. It would have been easy to retreat into our shells so to come back with that try and close out with our defence when they didn't look like scoring was superb.

"It was great to get over for that second try. We called the same move earlier in the game but it went wrong. We called it again and it came off.

"We weren't trying to score off first phase, we just wanted to get on the front foot. Luckily, the hole opened up. The fact we won was special, but the fact that I scored twice makes it that little bit more special for me".

Ireland are not so much a work in progress as making progress in their work. They showed this by refusing to bang away at the England line from five metres out in the 57th minute, as they mistakenly did against South Africa in November.

Instead, the lineout was mauled marginally forward. David Wallace pumped his legs in contact with two English defenders, staying on his feet until the cavalry arrived. Then Tomas O'Leary and Jonathan Sexton swiftly combined for Keith Earls to slide in at the flag.

This is clear recognition of flexibility in their line of thinking. The management and players are willing to change and to improve their options, especially close to the line.

England out-half Jonny Wilkinson was one play away from returning to hero status. The right-footed drop goal that moved the home side in front in the 71st minute was the mark of a remarkable footballer.

But it all unravelled disastrously when he drifted too far away from his tail gunner Joe Worsley at a lineout to properly protect Bowe's hammer-down incision. Did he take the blame for Ireland's 74th minute winner?

"I'm happy to do that. I don't necessarily choose to because it keeps you awake a bit but it's what drives you the next day to get up in the morning a bit earlier than most and get back on track," he said.

"I'm always critical. I'd be critical of my positional play for three-quarters of that match. I pride myself on being defensively reliable, and it's definitely something I have to improve".

The commitment to improve is an attitude Ireland's young guns would do well to heed. It is something Bowe has learned with the Ospreys and from his underwhelming Six Nations debut in 2005.