Ulster Rugby's Tommy Bowe fired up to make history
Published 05/04/2014 | 11:30
After eight seasons of top-flight professional rugby in which he seldom missed a match, the Monaghan marvel has had more than his fair share of injuries in the past couple of years.
Tonight he gets the chance to make up for some of the big-game action on which he has lost out in the past couple of seasons since rejoining Ulster.
"Unfortunately that's the second Six Nations I've missed in two years, so I've come to realise how precious it is when you do get to play," he admitted.
"I went for a stretch of eight years where I never got injured and I maybe took that for granted. But now I'm fit, I'm back playing again and I'm hungry for it.
"I don't want to get injured again so I'm doing the extra bit of preparation and physio work, rehab work – continually working on that sort of thing so that hopefully that will help me in the future."
Whilst conceding that the threat of injury is ever-present, the 30-year-old said any misgivings on that count are superseded by the desire to play.
"I think the hunger of wanting to get out and get playing again beats the fear of picking up another injury," he said.
With the season now reaching the stage where the wheat and chaff are separated, with winners pulling clear of the also-rans, the timing of his return could not be better – Ulster are still in the race for the Heineken Cup and the PRO12.
Two trophies up for grabs between now and the end of May; small wonder Bowe is raring to go after his latest spell on the sidelines. There's work to be done and he can't wait to get at it.
"I knew that there was still a huge amount of the current season so I'd that to look forward to and obviously it starts this weekend," he smiled.
Explaining what it will mean to play at a packed Ravenhill tonight, hoping to topple the Aviva Premiership leaders and book a place in the Heineken Cup's semi-final at the Aviva Stadium three weeks from now, Bowe said: "These are the games that anybody wants to play in.
"This is the one that when the selection comes you're that bit nervous about. We'd a disappointing result last weekend but coming in on Monday morning we'd forgotten about Cardiff and the focus was on this match.
"Everybody knows how big this is and certainly for me, this is the game that I've been trying to build myself up for since I had to rule myself out of getting back for the Six Nations."
Bowe may be a two-tours Lion and a Grand Slam winner, but even he admits that tonight's occasion Ravenhill is going to be something to savour for Mark Anscombe (pictured) and his men.
"Everyone you talk to, there's just been so much talk over the past few weeks about this Saracens match – it's big news here in Ulster, it's big news in Ireland. With the stadium opening, everybody's talking about how fantastic it looks.
"But it's not going to be worth much if we don't turn up on the day. We're going to have an absolutely amazing crowd behind us. The way the tickets have sold, well, it blew us away how quickly they sold.
"So the pressure is on us to perform."
Asked how important a home quarter-final is, he replied: "It's massive. Massive. When it gets to the quarter-final stages I think the teams are so close and there's so little between every team that something like a home crowd on your back can make a massive difference.
"It's very rarely in a quarter-final that the home team doesn't come away with the victory, so in this cup competition – with it being the way it is – home advantage is vitally important."
Tonight he is up against the flamboyant Chris Ashton, while over on the right wing Andrew Trimble has responsibility for looking after David Strettle.
Assessing the threat those particular Saracens pose, he said: "They've scored quite a few tries this year. They look to get heavily involved off 10 and even look dangerous out wide.
"Those are two very threatening players and they're definitely dangermen for them. Good try-scorers, clinical try-scorers.
"I won't change my game. I've come up against both of them a couple of times; I won't change my game, though I'm obviously wary of the threat they'll pose."
And turning the tables he pointed to the fact that he and his strike-partner Trimble do not plan to spend the night playing purely defensive roles.
"Certainly the way Andrew has played in the Six Nations, he's definitely a massive threat so they'll be looking out for him," Bowe said.
"And for myself, I'm just trying to get myself back up to that level again.
"I'm enjoying my rugby, trying to get the ball in my hands, and hopefully I can cause them a few problems."