Winger Tommy Bowe believes the key to Ireland’s Six Nations Championship aspirations will be making a good start against France at Croke Park on Saturday.
Bowe, who left Ulster in the summer to join the Ospreys, starts on the right wing in a new-look Ireland back division which sees Paddy Wallace make his championship debut.
“I said we’d nearly be underdogs going into the match and that might make us play very well,” stated Bowe.
“In the past there has been a lot of hype around the Irish team, going into the first match against the French everybody is thinking they are our bogey team but if we can beat them in Croke Park it will be a great springboard for the rest of the campaign,” added the Monaghan man.
France has won 14 of the last 17 meetings between the countries including the first ever rugby match at Croke Park two years ago and although they have picked an experimental side, Bowe thinks Ireland should concentrate on their own game.
“We’ve looked a fair bit at France but we’ve looked more at ourselves and we have the sort of players that can go and win these competitions like the Magners League and the Heineken Cup and you kind of think, ‘why can we not transfer that to international level’,” reasoned Bowe.
“If we can do that we should be beating French sides like the clubs do, Ulster are coming back into great form, Munster and Leinster are into the next stage of the Heineken Cup so why should we not be beating these teams, and I think Saturday is a great opportunity to.”
Ireland are perennial under- achievers in the Championship, with their last title coming in 1985 and the one and only grand slam in 1948 but Bowe is happy that the spotlight hasn’t focused on the team too much ahead of this year’s tournament.
“With the new coaching staff and the players we have got there is going to be expectation but at the same time you are going to have the usual doubters which is maybe a good thing going into the first match,” claimed Bowe.
“We are underdogs and that might be something that will make us play better and we’d be happy enough with that and hopefully we’ll come out flying.”
Ireland won two out of their three autumn internationals with the only blip coming against the all-conquering New Zealand and Bowe wants the side to make amends for that result during the spring campaign.
“With Eddie (O’Sullivan) having been there five or six years and with having top international players I think something as simple as a change of voice or a change of drills makes such a difference,” he said.
“There is a new enthusiasm and freshness and that can only be a positive thing.
“I think we are still hurting a little bit after the defeat by the All Blacks, we were very disappointed with our performance that day. We genuinely thought that this could be our chance and we feel we let everybody down, so this is our chance to put it right.”
Bowe has being enjoying life at the Ospreys having qualified for the last eight of the Heineken Cup and he is glad that it’s not a case of out of sight out of mind when it came to Irish selection.
“Obviously it’s a lot more difficult being over there but luckily the Ospreys play in the Magners League so we play one of the Irish provinces every four or five weeks so there are plenty of opportunities for the coach to see me play without having to travel too far,” he added.