Bowe eager to atone for 'heartbreak' of '09 as hurling glove helps defy medics
THE PASSAGE of time has sharpened rather than diffused the pain of the Lions' 2009 series loss in South Africa for Tommy Bowe.
The adventure was an exhilarating experience, made special by the dramatic closing moments in the second Test when the Springboks secured the series with the last kick of the game. It was agonising for Bowe, and the heartache of that second Test loss has been a constant companion for the last four years.
Now, on the eve of his 2013 Lions Test debut, the sentiments that surfaced after that unlucky loss seem especially relevant for the Ulster wing.
"Everything about that tour in '09 was lined up for us to win that series," recalled Bowe. "Losing that series is one of my biggest regrets.
"If you chat to anyone involved in that tour they will tell you of the disappointment of missing out.
"To go two-nil down was just heart-breaking, especially losing the second Test with the last kick of the game."
The Lions' achievement in winning last weekend's first Test has heightened the pressure Bowe feels at being parachuted into the starting team ahead of Alex Cuthbert.
It is a huge filip for the player who thought his tour was over when he broke his hand against Queensland Reds on June 8 – he even texted his family to relay the bad news to them.
"When the doctor examined me on the pitch I was basically told it was curtains for my tour. At the hospital, once the X-ray showed the broken bone I texted 'game over' to my family."
Conventional wisdom had Bowe's recovery time at between six and eight weeks but one of the Lions doctors – Eanna Falvey – spoke to the surgeon, who revealed he had experience of rugby league players returning to playing duty after just three weeks.
"I went from an all-time low to the high of that lifeline," said Bowe. "I was suddenly back in the game and started focusing on being back for this second Test."
Bowe will experience some discomfort playing the game. His right hand is still a little swollen and the pink edges around the scab where the surgeon made the incision emphasise just how fresh the wound is.
Luckily, Bowe remembered how his Ulster and Ireland team-mate Andrew Trimble wore a hurling glove for protection when he suffered a similar injury – he will also wear the protective glove on Saturday.
"There will be a little pain but I won't have to take painkillers to mask it or anything," explained Bowe.
"I rang Andrew to find out the make of the glove and we had one shipped out immediately. It's not restrictive at all. It's padded on the outside and it's basically to protect me just in case I get a boot directly on the back of the hand.
"There is no issue with the injury now. I've pushed it to all limits in training and was actually back in some contact last week.
"I've done tackling, passing, catching, ripping the ball from contact. It's a little bit sore but that's not an issue. I have full strength in my grip and am just anxious to go."
Bowe (left) acknowledged that the players are feeling the pressure of the occasion and the weight of expectancy that is coming to bear.
"It's been 16 years since the last (series) win. That's pressure. And we're playing in the same stadium as in 2001 when Australia won to draw level in the series before going on to win it outright," he said.
"We know what a great opportunity it is to be picked for the Lions but if we can't win and we're to go another four years without a win you would wonder what would happen with the Lions.
"It is a great opportunity for us. We feel this could be our time, although we all know how difficult it is to come down to the southern hemisphere and get a win."
And he is also feeling the personal pressure that comes with being selected ahead of Cuthbert following the Welsh international's try-scoring feat last weekend.
"I realise that it is a big call. That's putting a lot of pressure on me and means I have to repay the faith that Warren (Gatland) has put in me," said Bowe.
"You want to play in the big pressure games. Not so long ago I thought my tour was over and I have this chance now ... it's up to me to take it."