Rejuvenated Bowe is relishing central role
Ireland star is enjoying a new lease of life in midfield, writes Cian Tracey
Any notion that Tommy Bowe would not be able to hit the same kind of speeds he regularly clocked up before his injury nightmare were quickly dispelled in the opening game of the season.
Bowe's GPS showed that he had sprinted faster than he has in the last four years. The irony was not lost on the fact that he managed to do it against the Cheetahs.
At 33, the Monaghan native has found a new home in the centre and while he hasn't ruled out returning to the wing, he is content with the switch to midfield.
It helps that it is not a position that is alien to Bowe. He featured in the centre regularly during his time with the Ospreys and has occasionally lined out there for Ulster.
With Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Jared Payne in a race to be fit for the November internationals, Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell's recent visit to Ulster training could hardly have come at a better time for Bowe, who is desperate to force his way back into the reckoning.
Schmidt didn't discuss the issue directly with the two-time Lions tourist but the Ireland boss has been in regular contact with his former defence coach Les Kiss.
"I'd like to give it a good go, to get a good run of a couple of more games and grow into the position," Bowe said.
"Even at the weekend, a simple skip pass to 15, and my man went outside me; that's just a little bit of rustiness getting my timing right. Small things like that take a little bit of adjusting to.
"I am a winger predominantly, I have been playing wing most of my career, I know the wing inside out. From a point of view of speed I feel like I have a really good pre-season under my belt.
"I hit the top speed that I have hit in four years during that Cheetahs game. From a speed and acceleration point of view I actually feel good, I feel like I can slot in on the wing or at 13.
"You do the measure in meters per second, so I think it was 9.7, and I think my personal best ever is 9.8, so it's not far off."
He is likely to get a stern test of his midfield credentials tomorrow when he comes up against the Lions Player of the Series Jonathan Davies, who is due to return for the Scarlets.
Having trained with Ireland at their recent camp, Bundee Aki is in line to come into the frame for the November Tests and Bowe believes that he can also provide an option.
Nullifying Davies's threat would certainly help his cause in that regard.
"I'd love to, of course," Bowe enthused. "I got injured playing for Ireland even if it was only for 40 seconds, my goal is always to represent my country and Ulster. There's no point playing professional rugby if you're not going to aim for the top.
"I feel fit, I feel probably as good as I felt in a few years. If that call (from Schmidt) came, I'd be more than delighted, I know I can do the job.
"I have really enjoyed it. Having Christian Lealiifano, he's a really calming influence. In the last couple of games he has been good and a couple of the younger out-halves as well.
"I am there to try and help them out and be a bit of a mature head in the middle of the back-line, with Stuart McCloskey as my (midfield) partner.
"To know then that when I get a bit of open space, to see on the GPS, which can sometimes be the bane of your life, but to know that I hit top speeds and with some of the younger lads coming through, knowing I can still keep going with them is a real confidence booster."
Ulster were hugely impressive in their season-opener against the Cheetahs and although they followed it up with a win over Treviso last weekend, they stuttered and almost faltered.
It was indicative of Ulster's inconsistencies over the last decade but Bowe shrugged off the suggestion that it was going to be more of the same this season as he pointed to the time it will take for Jono Gibbes and Dwayne Peel to fully implement their structures.
That said, Ulster's 11-year trophy drought (12 by the time they get a chance to end it next May) remains a heavy burden on the shoulders of experienced players like Bowe.
"We've got an incredible fan base, an incredible stadium, facilities, we've got everything but unfortunately we don't have the silverware," Bowe added.
"We don't have the full trophy cabinet and that's a regret. I don't want to finish my career having not won anything in over a decade with Ulster and I'm not going to have that many more years to go and do it.
"We keep saying, 'Yeah, this is our year' over and over again, and there's nothing more frustrating. But all we can do is try and get off to a good start in the league and just keep working on the fundamentals that we've been working on all through pre-season.
"Someone like Jono Gibbes coming in provides a real hard edge to the team and that's something that he's really worked hard on. That will definitely help us as the season goes on."