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Late Robbie so crucial to Queen's producing stars like Henderson, says Bowe

 

By Jonathan Bradley

When Iain Henderson's name was read aloud during the British and Irish Lions squad announcement in London on Wednesday afternoon, it was a moment that will have put a few smiles on the faces at the playing fields of Upper Malone where the Ulster forward once plied his trade for Queen's University.

The 25-year-old will this summer become the 22nd player from the academic institution's rugby club to represent the famous touring collective - a tally that is more than any other in all of Irish Rugby - and that storied history will be marked this evening with a 'Lions Legends Dinner' in the university's Whitla Hall.

With the likes of Dick Milliken, who toured with the 1974 'Invincibles' to South Africa, Trevor Ringland, Nigel Carr and Phillip Matthews all to be in attendance, it is set to be a real celebration of the student side's contribution to the Lions tale.

Prior to Henderson's selection, Queen's most recent Lion was Tommy Bowe, a double tourist having made the trips to South Africa in 2009 and Australia four years later.

The Monaghan man, currently on the sidelines with a broken ankle, is another who will be a part of the festivities this evening, and the 33-year-old recalls his time in the blue jersey with real fondness.

"Queen's rugby means a hell of a lot to me," he said.

"Coming out of school, I wasn't exactly sure what way my career was going to go. Joining a club like Queen's was the perfect stepping stone to going into professional rugby which I was fortunate enough to do.

"Queen's were relatively professional and the craic was always mighty. I'm still good mates with a lot of the guys I played with all those years ago."

The night will also see the inaugural inductees to the Robbie Moore Hall of Fame, which has been named in honour of the club's long-time stalwart who died last year after decades of service to the side.

Having served in virtually every role imaginable at the Dub, Moore's former players have been full of praise for the contribution he made to their careers and Bowe is no different.

"I have a lot of great memories of Robbie," he recalled.

"He was a great character and a brilliant guy around the club and really held the club together for so many years, going to all those matches that he was there following Queen's.

"You have got to hand it to him, he was an incredible guy and I really couldn't say anything bad about him. He was a top man and hopefully this night will go well for him."

With Moore particularly fond of a story where a young Bowe turned up to play Ballina minus his boots, the 2009 Grand Slam winner joked that, despite his international-in-waiting status, he was rarely spared a tongue lashing from Moore.

"Most of them are pretty negative actually," he laughed when recalling the pair's conversations. "He didn't say a lot of good things about me back in the day.

"There are too many stories to mention but my favourite was him going round with his Olbas Oil, drenching the front of your jersey before every match.

"He said it was meant to clear out your nostrils but you nearly couldn't breathe running out onto the pitch.

"He was one of the few characters left in the game and he'll be sadly missed

"I have plenty of great, great memories of him and he was brilliant for me all the way through my career at Queen's."

Similarly indebted to Moore is Ulster's European Cup-winning lock Gary Longwell.

Having made his Irish debut only when nearing his 30th birthday, the Ballymena man's talents weren't always given due recognition, and he revealed that it was Moore's stark advice that spurred him on in those early days.

"For me, he was so honest and I'd never really had that before from a coach," he said.

"He was the one guy that would say, 'the Irish guys don't rate you and, to be honest, we're not really rating you at the minute either'.

"That gave you a decision as a player - you could do something about it or not.

"That made a difference to my career because I took up the challenge and tried to get better. If it wasn't for Robbie saying that kind of thing, I could have gone wrong.

"It's one of the hardest things to do as a coach. A lot of players don't want to hear it, this generation especially, but Robbie was a father figure for a lot of the boys, and then a grandfather figure by the end."

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