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Kidney vote of confidence puts pressure on Bowe for big performance

Yesterday's Ireland team announcement stuck in the craw of many Irish supporters and, predictably, more than one or two of the players.

Fergus McFadden, a try-scorer against the French remember, did precious little wrong in his first two outings in a green shirt, save perhaps bringing a step-ladder with him to Rome to take Brian O'Driscoll's howitzer delivery.

This week, he finds himself bounced out of the 22 entirely, despite his ability to cover a variety of three-quarter positions, with not even the possibility of a five-second replacement cameo to dampen his disappointment.

Yet it is a measure of the status now attained within the Irish squad by Tommy Bowe, whose fitness allows him to usurp McFadden's erstwhile right-wing position, that Declan Kidney had no hesitation in ushering the former Lion straight back into his starting line-up.

Despite flirting with the media world when he pitched up with the BBC for Ireland's visit to Rome, Bowe's remarkable inability -- he stresses, diplomatically, an unwillingness -- to find fault in his team's performance against Italy ensured that he would avoid being isolated from his former Grand Slam colleagues.

"I took the easy way out!" said Bowe of his treasonous dalliance with the fourth estate. "I wanted to be welcomed back again! If I'd gone down a few different people's routes, I think it would have been tough to come back into the hotel again. It's a delicate balance."

Mercifully, this Irish rugby lot tend to be fairly mature about criticism, especially since it appears they've spent a lot of time dishing it out to themselves in training as they fumble and stumble towards effecting some sort of cohesive approach.

"I'm not great at watching, I don't enjoy it," he admits of his time spent recuperating from knee trouble. "It's very difficult to watch other people playing your position and watching the team.

"To lose against France was absolutely devastating, I was screaming at the television. I don't enjoy it, I enjoy being on the pitch playing. But it makes it that little bit easier when you're injured that you can't get back in the team as opposed to being dropped."

The recidivist mistakes remain a worrying portent of this team's health in World Cup year, particularly when training was apparently as sharp as ever in the build-up to the Italy game before degenerating into an unholy mess thereafter.

Bowe dismisses the cliché that such mistakes will make the side grow stronger.

"I wouldn't accept making mistakes," he rebuts forcefully. "At the end of the day we want to be winning, that's what will give us the biggest lift. We want to be coming off a good campaign going into the World Cup, so first and foremost we want to win.

"But when the small errors creep in, I suppose it does get into your head a little bit, but it's not something we're worried about. We play enough rugby and have dropped enough balls in training over the years that it shouldn't really transfer into a game.

"But there are a lot of positives we can take out of the campaign so far. We are spreading the ball a bit and teams are looking a bit ragged.

"To be able to score three tries against France is very positive and there were times in the Italy match, especially in the first half, where if we could have held on to the ball and not coughed it up in key areas of the pitch, we definitely would have scored more tries there too.

"I think that we can take a lot of out of it, but obviously the disappointment of giving away penalties in the wrong areas of the pitch, and a few spilt balls, have let teams into it."

Bowe's immediate return will heighten the personal pressure as the Ospreys man is clearly one of Ireland's go-to men. "It's a huge vote of confidence for me to come straight back in. I thought Fergus did very little wrong. He picked up a good try and probably could have got another one in the Italian match.

"It's been a frustrating two games, I'd say, for the two wingers, they're not really getting a whole lot of ball, so for me to be given the nod to come back in having really just played the one match is a huge vote of confidence.

"The pressure is on me to perform, though, with the likes of Andrew Trimble and these guys all hot on my heels as well. The pressure's on, but that's where you want to be."

Irish Independent