Tuesday 23 July 2019

Comment: Tommy Bowe served a reminder why he is Ireland's greatest ever winger

Ireland's Tommy Bowe scores their fifth try
Ireland's Tommy Bowe scores their fifth try

Roy Curtis

The fall for Tommy Bowe has been startling, swift, an elevator that has lost its moorings clacking off the floors as it accelerates toward the void.

Here, though, Ireland’s greatest winger presented a bulging portfolio of coercive evidence to suggest he might just be equipped with the skills to defy gravity, that – whatever you may have heard - he hasn’t gone away, you know.

This was a statement as eye-catching as Wembley’s colossal arch, one that announced Bowe is not yet resigned to tumbling quietly into the emptiness.

He was sure-footed as he began the long ascent back toward the sunlight, the mountain crest where Ireland’s greatest winger has nested for so long.

A killing thrust only the murderous Monaghan gunslinger could conjure brought him level with Denis Hickie as Ireland’s second most prolific try-scorer.

He remained in Doc Holliday mode, a second sure pistol-shot catapulting his international touchdown total to within one of the 31 years he has spent on Earth, leaving him adrift of only Brian O’Driscoll on the all-time list.

Ireland's Keith Earls scores their third try
Ireland's Keith Earls scores their third try
Ireland's Tommy Bowe scores their fifth try
Ireland's Simon Zebo carries the ball during the Rugby World Cup match at Wembley Stadium
Rugby Union - Ireland v Romania - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool D - Wembley Stadium, London, England - 27/9/15 Ireland's Keith Earls celebrates scoring their thrid try with Devin Toner Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Couldridge Livepic
27 September 2015; Tommy Bowe, Ireland, goes over to score his side's first try despite the tackle of Ionut Botezatu, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Devin Toner, Ireland, takes possession in a lineout. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Keith Earls, Ireland, is congratulated by team-mate Simon Zebo after scoring his side's second try.
27 September 2015; Simon Zebo, Ireland, touches the ball down past the Romania try-line, only for the try to be disallowed due to Simon Zebo having played the ball in touch. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Keith Earls score his side's second try.
Ireland's Tommy Bowe scores the opening try
27 September 2015; Cian Healy, Ireland, is tackled by Ovidiu Tonita and Andrei Radoi, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Jamie Heaslip, Ireland, is tackled by Daniel Carpo, Alexandru Tarus and Viorel Lucaci, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Simon Zebo, Ireland, is tackled by Viorel Lucaci, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Tommy Bowe, Ireland, is tackled by Valentin Poparlan, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; xxx, Ireland, is tackled by yyy, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Simon Zebo is tackled by Csaba Gal, left, and Viorel Lucaci, Romania.
27 September 2015; Jared Payne, Ireland, is tackled by Valentin Calafeteanu, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2015; Keith Earls, Ireland, is tackled by Adrian Apostol, Romania. 2015 Rugby World Cup, Pool D, Ireland v Romania, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's scrum half Eoin Reddan passes the ball during a Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between Ireland and Romania at Wembley stadium
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt speaks to Darren Cave ahead of the game.

Can Ireland really afford to jettison a player who bows only to a deity?

Romania, admittedly, are low-grade opposition yet – after his chastening Twickenham trial – Bowe’s performance carried an air of atonement.

He swam through the air, a winged chariot, soaring to pluck the ball from the skies; he looked ravenous, belligerent, desperate for redemption.

Bowe had arrived at a convulsing, overflowing Wembley Stadium an oddly diminished figure, a feint silhouette of the beloved national hero.

Evicted from Joe Schmidt’s inner-cabinet, uprooted from what has for so long, been his ultra-safe right-wing seat, this was, indisputably, the end game:  A stage upon which to canvass for World Cup re-election.

Either that or accept that his race was run.

Bowe’s downgrade has occurred in pretty much the time a pleasingly animated Ryle Nugent used to stretch out the electric Ulsterman’s surname like an elasticated band in celebration of yet one more high-voltage intervention.

If Schmidt had caught any kind of World Cup fever before this fixture it hadn’t, thus far, been of the TB variety.

But the New Zealander may now be coming down with tell-tale symptoms.

“A huge kick in the backside,” was Bowe’s candid assessment of his ejection from the starting XV for the Canadian game.

This, remember, is a lethal predator, an insatiable carnivore, one of the faces of Ireland’s golden years.

He is also a Thirtysomething who understands well the pitiless, ephemeral, frequently cruel nature of elite sport, who recognises how quickly the last grains of sand can empty from the hour-glass of an athlete’s professional life.

A month ago he looked leaden-limbed, antique, as England’s Johnny May scorched down his wing at Twickenham, destroying Ireland.  Serious collateral damage was inflicted on Bowe’s status as an international untouchable.

At his best the Monaghan beast-of-prey provides a serrated edge, a saw-toothed capacity to slice open a route to the try line none of his peers can match:  His international tries have come at a little over one every two games.

But until today there was evidence he had misplaced his mojo.

Assassins are largely judged by the notches on their gun-belt. 

On Saturday Wayne Rooney scored a first league goal in 999 minutes, Harry Kane ended a 748-minute drought. 

Both men looked instantly enlarged, confidence gushing back into their play. 

So it was with Bowe; his try, dancing through a crack in a cement wall, a balletic one-footed pirouette to evade touch even as he shipped a thumping shoulder-charge tackle, came from the playbook of a master finisher.

Schmidt, though, is hard-wired with a perfectionist’s DNA:  He is unforgiving of those who fall below his exacting standards.

Mastery of the basics – in offensive execution, defensive certainty, option-taking, always prioritising the needs of the team – is an absolute minimum.

Ireland’s back three options – and particularly those putting their hands up to be Rob Kearney’s wingmen - facilitate the New Zealander’s ruthless streak.

Keith Earls made it seven tries in seven World Cup appearances with a clinical exhibition of how to inflict pain.

Simon Zebo was all dancing George Best feet and livewire darts, he threw a 25-yard skip-pass assist to Earls that came straight from the gods.

Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald – both of whom enjoyed convincing shifts against Canada - are waiting offstage.

So Bowe needed to deliver a compelling audition, decorate the afternoon with X-factor stardust.

On Saturday, Bowe’s 2013 Lions team-mate George North waited 18 minutes to touch the ball; the Irishman, in contrast, had the leather in his paw six times in the first five minutes, even darting to Earls’ wing in search of work.

If this was an NCT on the old Rolls Royce, it found every part in working order:  Safe hands, a sure boot, impeccable positional play, after-burners fizzing.

But it was the touchline salsa on 19 minutes, the capacity to worm through the tiniest gap - instinctive, unteachable, priceless - to treat the tiniest fissure as if it is as gaping as the Grand Canyon, that sets Bowe apart. 

The enduring acceleration, the safecracking instinct that unlocked Romania will be ever more valuable as the tournament progresses. 

Bowe was not alone in seeking to display his credentials to be a front-line performer at the business end of this carnival.

Perhaps the task facing Devin Toner was not quite as demanding as being asked to drain the nearby Thames with a thimble, a little less onerous than damming London’s mighty river armed only with a pair of coat-hangers.

But only just.

Short of summoning a thunderbolt from the heavens here, it was difficult to imagine a scenario in which the 6’10 cloud-scraper could have struck down the claims of Iain Henderson to lock the scrum alongside Paul O’Connell.

Toner has done very little wrong and a whole lot right – he impressed again here – but he has simply collided with an ebullient force of nature.

A Panzer who handles like a Porsche, the remarkable Henderson is Ireland’s Mister Zeitgeist:  This simply is the Ulsterman’s time, the World Cup a canvass he can decorate with brushstrokes of the rarest talent.

All Toner could do was to offer the very best of himself.

He did all of that, and yet Henderson’s form is so outrageous that Toner is surely destined to live out the rest of this Mardi Gras in a pit of despair.

It remains uncertain where Bowe will dwell as the tournament unspools:  After this reminder of all he can be, though, it will hardly be as a prisoner entombed in some doomed elevator hurtling toward the eternal void.

Online Editors

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