Belfast Telegraph

Flying Ulster winger Tommy Bowe is aiming to silence the critics

By Jonathan Bradley

Tommy Bowe believes his Ulster team-mates will be spurned on by the doubters who feel their chances in Europe are already over for another year.

Having lost their two opening Champions Cup games to Leicester and Toulon, Neil Doak's side face an uphill struggle to emerge from Pool 3 and make the last eight for a fifth year in succession, but the Monaghan man will pay little heed to the naysayers ahead of a double header against the Scarlets.

"It's nice motivation for us," he said. "There's no dismissing the next two matches in our changing room.

"We've obviously a huge game against Scarlets this weekend, and I think hearing stuff like that is good motivation."

While Bowe does admit that the odds are stacked against Ulster, he believes that the change in the competition's structure may belatedly work in their favour.

The move to five pools this year, in comparison to the six used by the Heineken Cup in recent seasons, was the reason for Ulster being pitched into such a testing group last summer but, with the three best placed runners-up now taking a place in the knock-out stages, a lower tally may be required.

To reach the 20 point mark usually required for an April quarter-final, Ulster would need four wins from four, three coming with an accompanying bonus point, but the winger does not necessarily think the maths will be as simple this season.

"Not winning our first two matches, we've made it difficult for ourselves but we've seen the way other matches have gone," he said. "There's few teams have gone out there and got maximum points.

"Everyone talks about probably having to make 20 points in the past but I don't think you need that this year to qualify... I think there's going to be a few teams who could not quite make it to 20 points and still qualify.

"We know we've a massive task ahead and we're really excited about the next two weeks."

The return of Bowe to the side after his impressive contribution to Ireland's cause last month is a huge fillip to his province ahead of the crucial ties at the Kingspan on Saturday and Parc y Scarlets eight days later.

The former Osprey scored against both South Africa and Australia as the national side completed a November clean sweep and, now averaging a try in every other Test throughout his 56 caps, he is only one behind Denis Hickie in Ireland's all-time charts.

Prior to last month, the 30-year-old had not played for Joe Schmidt since the defeat to New Zealand at the end of 2013 and he relished the chance to once again step out at the Aviva Stadium.

He said: "I certainly enjoyed being back down in Irish camp. It was great to be back having missed the Six Nations and the summer tour, so I think that my game is definitely going in the right direction."

However, with the Irish coach's demands for perfection no doubt ringing in his ears, he added: "I think I still have a fair bit to work on.

"I feel I'm in a good place at the minute and I'll hopefully push on over Christmas and over the next period. There's some huge games coming up so we'll need to be at our best."

But will going from an environment where a team is riding the crest of a wave, and now ranked third in the world, to a side that has looked slightly unsure of themselves in recent weeks prove a challenge?

"We're looking I suppose at having a bit of confidence in ourselves and looking back at the game (last Friday), we had Munster under the cosh at times and I suppose small errors set in.

"As a team we know how good we are but as a collective of individuals we need to get it all right and come the big European matches we need to pull it out."

To do so against the Scarlets on Saturday will require Ulster to hold their concentration from first to last whistle, something they haven't managed to do in recent weeks against Ospreys and Munster.

Bowe admits: "We probably haven't had a full 80 minute performance this season yet but I think that the next two weekends is when we're going to have to pull it out.

"Scarlets is going to be difficult but at home here, I think we're going to have a full house, and if we're going to have a chance of getting maximum points we're going to need to put in that 80 minute performance."

Fail to do so and Ulster know that their next meaningful European game will not be until the closing months of 2015.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph