Bowe believes next generation have showed they can fill veterans' boots
TOMMY BOWE is sick of hearing about the list of absentees and the leadership lost in the absence of Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell.
But the Monaghan man knows it is only results that will secure trust in a new generation of leaders from Ireland fans and that, however heroic the effort was at times, Saturday's defeat won't cut it.
The emotions were mixed as the players travelled down the tunnel to meet the media an hour after full-time, showered, suited and ready to move on. There were elements to be proud of as a young team tore into the Springboks with abandon, tackling everything that moved, but the result is all-encompassing and, having led at half-time and played so well before the break, this group of Irish players know they lost an opportunity.
The pervading feeling around Lansdowne Road was the steel and experience of O'Driscoll, O'Connell and Rory Best might have swung it in Ireland's favour and, until they start closing out games without those leaders, the next generation will keep hearing about it.
"It's our time, without a doubt," Bowe said. "We've talked about that, it is our time. There's a lot of experience in the team there, a lot of young fellahs coming through.
"The guys who are missing, they have had their chance, they have taken their chance when they've had it, and whenever an opportunity comes to step into their boots, it's about stepping up to the plate and really showing what you've got.
"I think a lot of boys did that today. To see the first caps coming on today was very positive. Having the injuries that we've had is tough, but it's a great opportunity for young fellahs coming through. I think in the first half we definitely looked up to it. It's just frustrating to give away those 10 points when we did."
Surgery last April meant that Bowe missed the tour to New Zealand and all the heartbreak that went with it. But, despite the 60-0 hammering in Hamilton and a run of defeats that now stretches to five, the 28-year-old insists there is no lack of belief in the camp.
"There is a confidence there," he said. "There's a lot of talk about a lot of players being missing, but the last two weeks have been as intense and impressive a period with the Ireland squad than I've ever been involved in."
After his best display in an Ireland jersey, Chris Henry reflected on the change of emphasis after half-time. The openside had, along with Mike McCarthy and Peter O'Mahony, exerted huge influence and intensity at ruck-time during the first 40 minutes, but the Springboks upped their game after the break.
"They did a real job at times at the breakdown and there were a few crucial penalties from scrum and line-out. It's disappointing that we let it get ahead of us so much," Henry said.
"They threw themselves into the rucks and made some fantastic turnovers and slowed up our ball an awful lot. That's certainly something we will have to work on."
The frustration Ireland felt coming off was, Henry admitted, that South Africa were there for the taking but the home side never took their chance.
"Definitely, at half-time it was 12-3, so at that stage you're thinking 'right, they're chasing us', we just have to be controlled and play in the right area of the park and be sensible with the ball," he said.
"It's just hard to take because at that stage I thought we had control, but they really imposed themselves on us then."