Bowe out to tune in for final repeat
Ulster's Tommy Bowe has been down this path before –and emerged as a winner.
Now, with the omens in place for a repeat, the province's only representative on the 2013 British & Irish Lions is hoping for a similar outcome.
On May 27, 2010 Bowe lined up on the wing for the Ospreys and scored against Leinster at the RDS in the tournament's first-ever play-off. In what was coach Michael Cheika's last game in charge of Leinster, the guests from Swansea spoiled what was to have been his going-away gig by winning 17-12.
Fast forward three years, replacing Magners with RaboDirect as the sponsors and Cheika's name with that of Joe Schmidt, and everything seemingly falls perfectly into place. The circumstances bear a remarkable resemblance; same opponents, same venue, same stage of the same competition.
But same outcome on May 25, 2013? Ah, that's the $64,000 question.
Twelve months ago Bowe was a spectator when Ospreys returned to the RDS and, for a second time, upstaged Leinster in the final.
Now, having contributed to his former club's play-off victory in 2010 and witnessed their 2012 triumph (pictured right), Bowe is hopeful of being able to help Ulster follow suit by lowering Leinster's blue flag in Saturday's winner-takes-all showdown.
Assessing the magnitude of this wekend's task, Bowe said: "It's a difficult proposition; everybody knows that to beat Leinster anywhere is tough but to beat them in their own back yard is going to be extremely difficult."
Defeatist? No chance.
He continued: "But Ulster have played some great rugby this year. We had a bit of a dip in the middle of the season, but we're back, feeling confident, playing some good rugby and looking dangerous.
"I don't think we could be in a better way going into this match," was his considered and telling add-on.
Even when indirectly billing Leinster as favourites, Bowe managed to qualify that tag by pointing to the gruelling schedule through which Schmidt's Amlin Challenge Cup winners have just come.
"We'll probably be underdogs going into this game, which I think suits us. Leinster have played a lot of matches – four or five on the bounce now and very tough games – while we've had a week off so the players will be feeling fresh going into it," he suggested.
And while willing to concede that it is a massive challenge, Bowe said enough to leave no-one in any doubt that he feels Ulster are good enough to rise to it.
"We know it's going to be a very difficult proposition for us, but I think that we've played some great rugby. If we can play for a full 80 minutes – we've maybe taken our foot off the gas in the past couple of weeks – it's going to come down to a one-score match," he forecast.
Bowe's take on such shoot-out situations was: "It's a final and anything can happen."
Asked for his recollection of the 2010 final at the RDS, he said: "We went into it that day knowing that the majority of the supporters were Leinster supporters and the odds were stacked against us.
"But, as I said, anything can happen on the day. We got off to a cracker of a start, scored a couple of tries (man of the match Lee Byrne got the second) and managed to hold onto a win. I'm sure we'll be hoping to do something similar this week."
Preparations for Saturday's final have been somewhat different for Bowe. On Monday he and Ulster and Ireland team-mate Andrew Trimble sat their final papers in a management course with Hibernia College through the University of London. He felt the distraction was timely."That's taken our minds off it for the last while, which as been good," the Monaghan man said. "It has been such a hectic couple of weeks with the Lions (call) and us getting through to the final.
"We're now fully focused on that and you can see there's a lot of excitement around the squad. Maybe a bit of nervous energy which I think is exactly what you want going into such a big game.
"Getting named in a Lions squad is very special to me, but obviously this match is most important at the moment."
And there is something else which is particularly important to Bowe and his provincial colleagues who will – very literally – carry the name of their young former team-mate, Nevin Spence, into battle at the RDS. The tragedy of September 15, 2012 when the Ulster centre, his brother Graham and their father Noel died in a slurry tank accident at the family farm near Hillsborough has bound this group of players tightly.
Highlighting the importance of that fact, Bowe said: "It was such a tragic circumstance. I don't think anything really needs to be said about Nevin. I think the players know that he has always been in the back of our minds the whole season.
"His initials are stitched in underneath the Ulster badge on all our jerseys and we have memorials to him in different areas around the training facilities.
"I think he'll be looking down on us this weekend and it would be a great way to finish off the season with a bit of silverware for him."