Belfast Telegraph

Bowe: the criticism over new faces will not worry Gatland

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's two-time British and Irish Lion Tommy Bowe does not believe Warren Gatland will pay any heed to the critics that say he has devalued the jersey.

The head coach created a stir over the weekend when, largely thanks to their close proximity to the touring party in New Zealand, he called up four Wales fringe players who have just 15 Test starts between them, as well as Scottish pair Finn Russell and Allan Dell, to sit on the bench for this morning's clash with the Chiefs in Hamilton (8.35am kick-off).

The decision was made in order to protect those expected to take on the All Blacks in Saturday's first Test from having to double up in midweek but, by ignoring the claims of superior players touring with England in Argentina and Ireland in Japan, Gatland has been slammed for creating Lions out of convenience rather than merit.

But Bowe, whose first Lions experience came in South Africa in 2009 before working under the Welsh coach four years ago in the series victory over Australia, believes that Gatland's only concern will be repeating the feat against the best side in the world.

"I don't think so," opined the winger when asked whether Gatland would have any concerns over the uproar he caused. "Warren will divide opinion with the decisions he's made, but I can see what he's trying to do.

"As he has said before, his job over there at the minute is to win a Test series and he's trying to do that in the way that he thinks is best."

Gatland of course is no stranger to controversy when it comes to leading the Lions, having dropped four-time tourist and Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll for the deciding Test in 2013.

Such was the Lions' second-half dominance in that Sydney victory, few could argue that the selection, or non-selection, of O'Driscoll would have been a deciding factor either way, but that should not detract from what at the time was a hugely bold call that put the coach's reputation on the line.

Similarly, if the Lions can pull off an unlikely series win, Bowe knows few will recall the mid-tour controversy.

"He'll obviously have known that the criticism was coming and he's well used to being able to put up with a bit of flak," said the 33-year-old. "In his head, he'll never be questioned again if he's able to guide the side to a series win."

The Monaghan man never had the experience of being a "midweek dirt-tracker" having appeared in five Tests over his two tours, missing out on the first meeting with the Wallabies in 2013 thanks only to a broken hand.

But he is sure that, should the Ulster trio of Rory Best, Jared Payne and Iain Henderson not be named by Gatland tomorrow in the team for the first Test, that they will continue to give their all in the hopes of securing a place in the later games.

"It's never easy," he said. "I know even from last season, when you're used to being picked and then you're not, it's tough.

"You wouldn't be a professional sportsman if you didn't have aspirations to be a part of the Test side.

"The thing is though, being part of the Lions is such a special experience, you're fulfilling a lifelong dream to be a part of it.

"The best thing you can do is stand out and put yourself in contention, if not for the first Test then the second and third ones.

"With the Chiefs and then Hurricanes, there's good opportunities for guys to keep putting their hands up and there'll be injuries.

"There'll be opportunities for people who don't play this weekend to step into that Test arena.

"The best you can do is try and get yourself back into the frame with good performances in the matches and in training.

"The All Blacks are obviously going to be a completely different ball game, but to be going into that first Test having beaten the Crusaders, probably the best side they'll play there apart from the All Blacks, will be a big boost."

The man who has scored 30 Test tries was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph alongside former England centre-back Rio Ferdinand as the pair launched a new link between BT, the footballer's foundation and the Active Communities Network for whom Bowe serves as an ambassador.

The organisations will work together to provide mentoring and teaching skills for work and help young people from deprived communities.

And once Ferdinand's 2002 transfer from Bowe's beloved Leeds to Manchester United had been excused, the Ulster player was more than thrilled with the link up.

"I've been involved with Active Communities for a while now and it's a great organisation. I wasn't the best student, but I learned a lot from sport and it's great for kids who maybe haven't had the easiest upbringing to get those chances too," he added.

"And now with Rio coming over here, with BT coming on board, there's a pathway for people to go through to jobs and get career training as well."

Belfast Telegraph

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