Rugby World Cup: In-form Tommy Bowe is fired up by back-three battle
Tommy Bowe believes the battle for back-three positions at the World Cup is bringing the best out of both himself and his rivals for a starting spot as Ireland look ahead to Sunday's meeting with Italy.
The Ulster winger was not involved in the victory over Canada but returned to the right wing with a bang against Romania last weekend with two tries in the 44-10 Wembley win. The Monaghan man was making his first appearance since the warm-up defeat to England at the start of the month and was relieved to be given an opportunity to put a rare sub-par showing firmly in the rear-view mirror.
"I was disappointed with that performance," said Bowe of the outing that featured a much-discussed missed tackle on England wing Jonny May, which resulted in a try.
"I'd normally be relatively consistent and that day was definitely one of the more difficult ones. I think I bounced back well from it, I think I turned it around.
"I was able to put it behind me early enough and the last week or two I've trained well. I was just excited about getting back out onto the pitch again.
"When you have a performance you're not happy with, you want to get back out there and move on past it. That was the best way to do it."
Bowe's brace saw him become Ireland's second highest try-scorer of all time, passing Denis Hickie and now trailing just Brian O'Driscoll, but he was not the only outside back on the scoresheet.
Keith Earls matched Bowe's feat of crossing the whitewash twice, tying O'Driscoll's Irish record of seven tries at the tournament, while Rob Kearney scored a second in as many weeks before leaving with a knock.
With Ireland comfortably winning both of their games in Pool D thanks to contributions from 30 different players, the debate over selection is expected to be fervent ahead of Sunday's meeting at the Olympic Stadium.
Victory would seal Ireland's place in the knock-out stages one week before their crunch meeting with France, and while the two-time Lion admits that it would be nice to be assured of his place for the key clashes, he thinks the competition between those vying for a starting spot can only be good for the squad.
"It's tough, of course it is," Bowe said. "I want to be playing every week but there's always going to come a time when there's players pushing for your place.
"I see it as a good challenge; I enjoy the challenge of competition.
"I'm having a fight to try and get myself back in the jersey again. Dave (Kearney) is playing exceptionally well, all of the back three are.
"Of course I'd love to be number one, going out sure of my place, but the added pressure brings out the best in us."
The situation in the back-three is expected to become slightly clearer today with news expected in the next 24 hours on Rob Kearney's glute injury.
"Rob coming off is something you don't want to see," reflected Bowe.
"But I'm sure he's confident that it's not going to be something too strenuous, so we'll just have to wait and see. Fingers crossed he's going to be fine, but it would be a massive disappointment if he missed out."
Munster's Simon Zebo started in the No.15 jersey on Sunday and excelled, having a hand in three tries, so would be expected to deputise but left Ireland camp yesterday on compassionate leave to attend the funeral service of his grandfather, who died after a short illness
Bowe, meanwhile, has launched a strong defence of clubmate Jared Payne, who came in for stinging criticism from former Ulster coach Matt Williams on Sunday.
Williams said Joe Schmidt has "huge issues" at centre as a result of what he perceives as Payne's poor form, saying he's ticking "just about every box for doing things wrong as an outside-centre in attack".
"I know Matt, I was coached by him," Bowe said.
"The players are very confident in Jared's ability. I don't think he'll be getting too upset. We know what a talented player Jared is. He has a lot of time on the ball and he makes it easy for people inside and outside him to play with, because he's so consistent.
"His communication is very good and he's one of the best passers in the squad. He has a bit of an X-factor about him, he's a key part of the squad."