France is our big chance, says Bowe
Tommy Bowe has a 50-50 record against the French — two outings, one victory, one defeat.
He played in Paris in 2006 when, having trailed 29-3 at the break, Ireland staged a remarkable fightback, scoring four second half tries to finish gallant 43-31 losers.
But after 65 minutes that February afternoon Bowe was replaced by fellow-Ulsterman, Andrew Trimble, who got the last of those four Irish scores. So Bowe’s last visit is not a particularly happy memory.
Last year’s Croke Park experience was an altogether better day for the winger who, by that stage, had left Ulster and joined Ospreys. Ireland won 30-21, which meant they launched their championship by claiming a notable scalp. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Four years on from his first Stade de France outing, Bowe is one of eight players who, having started on that occasion, will do so again this Saturday.
The others are Brian |O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Ronan O’Gara, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Paul O’Connell and David Wallace.
“To go over there and play them on their own patch is a massive challenge for us. But we’re a team full of confidence at the minute,” said Bowe.
“We’re playing good rugby, we’re on a winning streak and we’re very eager to get back out.”
While Ireland have not enjoyed much credit for their workmanlike victory over Italy last weekend, Bowe saw cause for optimism nevertheless. Laced, however, with reality.
“I think some of what we did was very good and showed what we’ve got. But there’s an awful lot more to come out of us,” he said.
“This season we want to play more exciting rugby and expand our game a little bit and move up from last season. Last year we probably only played to 50 or 60 per cent of our capability.”
He is one of the sport’s most refreshingly honest characters, for while others have turned the avoidance of straight-talking answers into a not so fine art, the Monaghan man tells it like it is.
With typical candour he admits: “There is a bit of a fear factor. But that’s what you want in an international match.
“There’s always going to be a little bit of that going into these big games and none more than when you’re going to play France in Paris.”
As well as being honest, he exudes enthusiasm, quickly hastening to add: “We’re a side full of guys who have gone to England and France and won big European games. That, and the run Ireland have been on, gives us a real confidence in ourselves.”
Whilst he concedes that “Stade de France obviously is a very intimating environment”, he suggests that the best way to counter that is to go out with a positive mindset and a determination to play winning rugby.
“We have quality all over the park and while they (the French) have employed a bit of a blitz defence in the past few games we’ll be looking to exploit that a wee bit,” he reveals.
“Looking at last week’s match against them, Scotland managed to find quite a few holes but they weren’t able to finish it off.
“If you don’t take your opportunities against a team like France you don’t give yourself much chance.
“Blitz defence is a scare tactic, but it leaves gaps. It will be up to us to exploit those.”