Bowe in A team shock as Willie focuses on spirit
It certainly was quite the curve-ball when Tommy Bowe was named in the Ulster A starting team for tonight's opening British and Irish Cup game with Jersey Reds at Shaw's Bridge (7.00pm).
The expectation had been that Bowe, one of Ulster's big game performers, would have been inked in on Les Kiss's team sheet for Bordeaux on Sunday and that the Ireland and Lions star would have marked only his third competitive game since his comeback from last autumn's knee injury by playing in the Champions Cup.
Instead, the Guinness PRO12's leading try scorer will be on show at Shaw's Bridge rather than at the Stade Chaban-Delmas, with all the indicators suggesting that the 32-year-old has been demoted in the fallout from last weekend's first defeat of the season in Connacht.
At least Bowe will bring some star quality as Kieran Campbell's serially under-achieving side bid to get their B&I Cup season up and running, and no doubt struggling Jersey will also be somewhat taken aback by having to play against the Monaghan man who set up a try last weekend in Galway for Jared Payne.
But Bowe isn't the only notable selection as tight-head prop Ricky Lutton finally gets his first game-time of the season after recovering from a groin problem, while Dan Tuohy has a run-out after coming through his first match in 10 months in last weekend's 51-10 trouncing by Leinster A.
While most eyes will be on Bowe, another familiar figure will be there tonight, stalking the touchline rather than the pitch. Willie Anderson has pretty much been there and done that in a playing career which saw him captain Ireland prior to entering coaching and working with Leinster and Scotland, as well as at club level with Dungannon and Ballynahinch.
More recently the 61-year-old was in charge of rugby at Sullivan Upper School before leaving last summer to hook up with Campbell at the Ulster Academy, where one of his tasks is to also assist with Ulster's 'A' team.
One thing is certain though, Anderson has lost none of his enthusiasm for the game or his drive to win.
"I'm a great believer that when you put on an Ulster shirt it's vitally important you give it as much passion as you can," he states with conviction.
"What we are trying to do is to get an identity for the A team so we have something tangible as a team because a lot of guys obviously use it for different reasons."
While admitting that coming into the set-up at Ulster has been a steep learning curve for him, Anderson is, as ever, direct in what he identifies as essential to playing the game.
"You still have to go out and play with a great attitude, go out and play for the shirt and play for the guy beside you and that doesn't change in my book," he says.
With that determination and the quality they have in their side, Ulster should prevail.
Ulster A: J McPhillips, T Bowe, S Windsor, M Best, A Cairns, B Herron, D Shanahan; J Simpson, J Andrew, R Lutton, D Tuohy (Capt), K Treadwell, S Mulholland, C Joyce, L Dow.
Replacements: J Murphy, T O'Hagan, J Donnan, N Timoney, A Lloyd, C Smith, C Kelly.