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Rugby World Cup: Will Tommy Bowe be restricted to just a walk-on part?

Ireland v Romania: Wembley, Sunday 27 September, 4.45pm

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 22/09/2015

'I wouldn’t write off Tommy Bowe, but based on the evidence of the warm-up games, I would go with Dave Kearney and Simon Zebo on the wings'
'I wouldn’t write off Tommy Bowe, but based on the evidence of the warm-up games, I would go with Dave Kearney and Simon Zebo on the wings'

After Ireland kicked off their World Cup campaign with a bonus-point win over Canada, Joe Schmidt is expected to ring the changes for Sunday's meeting with Romania at Wembley - but it remains to be seen what that means for Tommy Bowe.

The Ulster wing was left out of the squad for Saturday's 50-7 victory at the Millennium Stadium with Schmidt swinging the axe after the Monaghan man struggled against England in the final warm-up Test.

Bowe, who when fit had been a permanent fixture in the No.14 jersey in the starting line-up throughout the Kiwi's tenure, now faces an anxious wait to see how much involvement he will be handed against the tier two nation.

With chances to impress set to be at a premium before the latter pool games against Italy and France, the Kingspan favourite will need to be back to his considerable best during the minutes that do come his way on Sunday.

The Ireland coach (pictured) has intimated that he will give game time to as many of his 31-man squad who didn't feature against Canada as possible when he names his side on Thursday, but also warned that too many changes could rob his team of momentum.

With Japan beating South Africa in the biggest shock the tournament has ever seen over the weekend, coaches throughout the competition have been provided with a timely reminder that no opposition can be taken lightly.

"There will be some guys who go back out and some guys who will come in and that was probably always our intention to utilise, not the full breadth, but a fair bit of the breadth of the squad in these first two matches," Schmidt said.

"Through these first two games, the ideal would be that they all get a bit of game time to be prepared for the back end of the pool.

"At the same time, we've got to be conscious that every match is going to be tough."

While Bowe's missed tackle on Jonny May in the build-up to the England winger's score at Twickenham was certainly a black mark, and his general performance was far from his established best, there can be no dismissing the body of work the 31-year-old has amassed over a stellar career at both club and international level.

A two-time British and Irish Lion - Bowe earned five caps, at both wing and centre, during the tours while missing out on a sixth only because of a broken hand in 2013 - he played a central role in Ireland's greatest achievement of the professional era, scoring a second-half try in the Grand Slam-clinching win against Wales in 2009.

Indeed, only two men - Brian O'Driscoll and Denis Hickie - have crossed the whitewash in green more often, even if Bowe hasn't added to his tally for Ireland since scoring against southern hemisphere giants South Africa and Australia last November.

Coupled with an aerial ability that has suited Ireland's game plan in fixtures when Johnny Sexton has been called upon to put the ball in the air with greater frequency than witnessed on Saturday, it is clear what a fully-firing Bowe brings to proceedings.

Wing options are plentiful in Schmidt's squad, however.

Dave Kearney played his way into the travelling party and then the starting line-up with noteworthy performances in the summer camps and subsequent warm-up Tests before scoring on his World Cup debut against Canada.

Keith Earls made an impact on the opposite wing, providing the pass of the game in the build-up to Rob Kearney's second-half try, while Simon Zebo, who also offers full-back cover, was handed only a short cameo off the bench.

All of this with Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy, Fergus McFadden and Felix Jones watching on from home.

One of seven fit and available players who saw no action over the first weekend - Robbie Henshaw also did not feature due to a hamstring strain expected to be healed sufficiently to take some part on Sunday - Bowe is aiming to leapfrog a lengthy queue for the jersey.

Romania sit 18th in the world rankings, sandwiched between the USA and Canada, and have lost to Sunday's opponents on all eight occasions that the pair have squared off.

Ireland's World Cup camp moved from Cardiff to St George's Park last Sunday - preparing for their trip to the home of football with a week at the English FA's training base - and Schmidt's biggest concern this week will be pondering his selection issues as his men are put through their paces in Burton-on-Trent.

Lynn Howells, his Romanian counterpart, has more on his plate with his side required to play their opening two games of the competition just four days apart.

They take on France tomorrow evening at the Olympic Stadium and only after the final whistle can they turn their attention to the pool favourites.

With this in mind, another comfortable win is expected to set Ireland up for the clashes ahead with their Six Nations rivals but, for those like Bowe whose tournament could be defined by snatching their chance, matters promise to be anything but straightforward.

Belfast Telegraph

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