Belfast Telegraph

Big lift for Tommy Bowe

By Conor George

The passage of time has sharpened rather than diffused the pain of the Lions' 2009 Series loss in South Africa for Tommy Bowe.

The adventure was an exhilarating experience, made special by the dramatic closing moments in the second Test when the Springboks secured the Series with the last kick of the game. It was an agonising experience to endure.

Now, on the eve of his 2013 Lions' Test debut, the immediate sentiments that surfaced after the unlucky loss seem especially relevant for Bowe. The heartache of that second Test loss has been a constant companion for the last four years.

"Everything about that tour in '09 was lined up for us to win that series," recalled Bowe. "Losing that Series is one of my biggest regrets.

"If you chat to anyone involved in that tour they will tell you of the disappointment of missing out on that.

"To go 2-0 down was just heart-breaking, especially losing the second Test with the last kick of the game."

The Lions' achievement in winning last weekend's first Test and securing them the opportunity to win the Series tomorrow has heightened the pressure Bowe feels at being parachuted into the starting team against Australia ahead of try-scorer Alex Cuthbert.

It is a huge fillip for the player who thought his tour was over even before he left the Suncorp Stadium pitch and had even texted his family to relay the bad news to them.

"When the doctor examined me on the pitch I was basically told it was curtains for my tour. At the hospital once the X-ray showed the broken bone I texted 'game over'."

Conventional wisdom had Bowe's recovery time at between six and eight weeks but one of the Lions' doctors – Eanna Falvey – spoke to the surgeon who revealed he had experience of rugby league players returning to playing duty after just three weeks.

It was a lifeline for Bowe: "I went from an all-time low to the high of that life-line. I was suddenly back in the game and started focussing on being back for this second Test."

Bowe will experience some discomfort playing the game – his right hand is still swollen and the pink edges around the scab where the surgeon made the incision emphasise just how fresh the wound is.

Luckily, Bowe remembered how his Ulster and Ireland team-mate, Andrew Trimble, wore a hurling glove for protection when he suffered a similar injury and he will also wear the protective glove on Saturday.

"There will be a little pain but I won't have to take painkillers to mask it or anything," explained Bowe.

"I rang Andrew to find out the make of the glove and we had one shipped out immediately. It's not restrictive at all.

"It's padded on the outside and it's basically to protect me just in case I get a boot directly on the back of the hand. There is no issue with the injury now. I've pushed it to all limits in training and was actually back in some contact last week. I've done tackling, passing, catching, ripping the ball from contact. It's a little bit sore but that's not an issue. I have full strength in my grip and am just anxious to go now," he added.

Bowe was honest enough to acknowledge that the players are feeling the pressure of the occasion and the weight of expectancy that is coming to bear.

"It's been 16 years since the last win. That's pressure. And we're playing in the same stadium as the 2001 Series when Australia won to draw level in the Series before going on to win it outright.

"We know what a great opportunity it is to be picked for the Lions but if we can't win and we're to go another four years without a win you would wonder what would happen with the Lions.

"We feel this could be our time, although we all know how difficult it is to come down to the Southern Hemisphere and get a win," he said.

And he is also feeling the personal pressure that comes with being selected ahead of Cuthbert following the Welsh international's try-scoring feat last weekend.

"I realise that is a big call. That's putting a lot of pressure on me and means I have to go out there on Saturday and repay the faith that Warren has put in me.

"As a professional player you want to play in the big pressure games. Not so long ago I thought my Tour was over and I have this chance now ... it's up to be to take it," added Bowe.

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