Tommy Bowe: You don't slag 'fiery' Paul O'Connell too much – He'd shoot you down pretty quickly!
Tommy Bowe has had a knee operation to contend with since the disappointing Rugby World Cup exit, but admits he mulls over the quarter-final defeat at the hands of Argentina on a daily basis.
The Ulster winger limped off early as the Pumas put a depleted Ireland to the sword, before they themselves bowed out to Australia the following week. Injuries to key players, suspensions and a loss of form contributed to the exit and after such lofty ambitions of reaching a first ever World Cup semi-final, Bowe admits not a day passes when he doesn't ponder over what might have been.
"I wake up every morning thinking, ‘What if?’. With the injuries that we had, of course it wasn’t ideal to lose leaders in the shape of Paul, Jonny, Sean – it has huge influence on the squad," he told Independent.ie. "Jared and Peter O’Mahony of course missed out too and you can’t underestimate what that means to the team."
Quick to avoid making excuses for the below-par team performance, he acknowledges that the personnel in the Millennium Stadium that day were still good enough to eke out victory despite the resounding 43-20 defeat.
"I still think we had a good enough team there against Argentina. I still think we had a good enough team to go out there and win, but on the day, Argentina just started off so quickly and they caught us on the hop. We really failed, we got ourselves back into it, but to give a team a 17-point lead you’re shooting yourself in the foot really."
The 31-year-old will have to wait before he can add to his haul of 30 international tries, with the knee injury sustained against Argentina ruling him out of the 2016 Six Nations and possibly the summer tour of South Africa.
The Monaghan native says that he is "coming on okay" after surgery two weeks ago but has not set a return date to action.
"I need to let myself heal as much as I can and get back onto the pitch as soon as I can. Unfortunately I don’t really have a timeline at the minute. Hopefully I’ll meet the surgeon in a few weeks and we’ll have a look at it again and we’ll go from there."
The World Cup ended in disappointment, but it was not without some bright moments along the way. Victory over France was richly deserved in what was a titanic and bruising encounter to top Pool D, while the 44-10 success over Romania at Wembley Stadium was a personal favourite for the speed merchant.
With his place on the team supposedly under threat, he chose the perfect time to rediscover his try-scoring form in claiming a brace against the underdogs in what was a world record crowd for a Rugby World Cup fixture in a a game that will live long in the memory for the hordes of Irish supporters in attendance.
"The atmosphere that day was amazing for me personally. Having missed out on the first match, to get in for that game, was my standout. Obviously getting to score a try or two was nice."
The tournament also saw the final chapter in Paul O'Connell's glittering international career, a hamstring injury sustained against France depriving Joe Schmidt of the inspirational second row for the knock-out stages.
As the Toulon-bound lock continues his rehabilitation programme, Bowe concedes that his influence was greatest away from the pitch, contributing to the positive squad morale.
The two-time Lion acknowledges that O'Connell was one of the great leaders, though was always wary when it came to making jokes at the Limerick man's expense.
"I think pretty much everyone has heard everything," he admitted. "It’s a sad day that Paul isn’t going to be wearing a green jersey anymore. Ever since I’ve been involved, he’s been there. He’s an inspiring character, certainly on the pitch and in the training field, but it’s more his off-the-park stuff.
"He’s great craic off the pitch. He can be fiery at times, he’s a very intense character, but whenever you’re in the team room, there’s always jokes and fun and a bit of slagging and he’s always in the thick of it.
"He’s the sort of man who’d shoot you down pretty quickly so you don’t go slagging him too much."
Tommy also spoke about his successful clothing range XV Kings Collection’s new offering.
“I try to get involved as I can. With the shoes at the very start, it was very difficult for me because I didn’t know really what styles sell and what doesn’t since we moved into clothing with XV Kings Clothing, it’s something I’ve been able to have more influence in.”