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Ireland will spoil Wales' Grand Slam party with another big win in Cardiff: Bowe

 

Pulling power: Former Ireland international Tommy Bowe (right) and Wales favourite Adam Jones warm up yesterday for Saturday’s Six Nations battle
Pulling power: Former Ireland international Tommy Bowe (right) and Wales favourite Adam Jones warm up yesterday for Saturday’s Six Nations battle

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland v Wales in Cardiff for round five of the Six Nations, one side with a Grand Slam on the line, the other still maintaining slim Championship hopes.

It's a scenario to make any Irish rugby fan think of Tommy Bowe.

It was 10 years ago that the Monaghan man scored an unforgettable try in the Millennium Stadium, preceding Ronan O'Gara's late drop goal, to provide one of the key moments of the side's first clean sweep since 1948.

The Ulster hero, who was representing Ospreys at the time, didn't have quite so fond memories of the venue in latter years, suffering a serious knee injury in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final there before breaking a leg two years later in what turned out to be his final Test appearance.

Compared to a decade ago, the situation is reversed this week. It is Wales gunning for a Grand Slam and Ireland clinging onto the chance of retaining the crown they won a year ago, but Bowe expects Saturday's game to be another memorable occasion where players will have to keep a lid on their emotions.

"It's the best stadium to play in away from home," he said. "It's a special place. Going down St Mary's Street from the hotel to the stadium, seeing all the fans mixing together, it's a great sight.

"Then there's that atmosphere, especially with the roof closed, you really do get carried away in it."

Bowe, though, who retired last year with 70 Test caps to his name, is backing his former team-mates to dampen the mood of the home support hoping to see a piece of history.

Ireland, who off the back of an historic 2018 came into the Championship as clear favourites, started their campaign with an earth-shattering home defeat to England but have won all three games since, dominating France on Sunday in a match that wasn't anywhere as close as the 26-14 scoreline suggested.

"I have a feeling that Ireland will win," said the man who has become the face of EIR Sport's Guinness PRO14 coverage since hanging up the boots.

"We've always started the Six Nations slowly under Joe (Schmidt) and finished very strongly. Building on last week's performance, which wasn't perfect but was a step in the right direction, I think the key will be an 80-minute performance.

"I think we can go over there and really produce the performance of our Six Nations and really build confidence looking ahead to the World Cup in six months' time. Going over to Wales, I think we are underdogs but that may suit us."

Bowe, who played in two World Cups himself, doesn't necessarily buy into the idea that winning on Saturday, in what will be the last full-blooded fixture before the World Cup opener out in Japan, will be a launching pad into the global showpiece.

Allied to the England defeat, he does, however, caution that another limp display will see questions linger.

"It's good to finish on a high but, just given the expectation on their shoulders coming in and after the loss to England, to finish second, or even first, in the table would be a huge boost," he said.

"It's about getting that big performance from a team standpoint and a mentality standpoint. If they put out a decent performance and don't win then I think they can build from it, but the players won't be too worried about what it means for a World Cup. They'll be back to their provinces, playing in Europe, and they'll move on pretty quickly.

"It's if they don't (play well) then that might be the sort of thing that can have repercussions in six months' time."

The looming World Cup is far from the only sub-plot to this concluding round of the Six Nations, which will act as a Championship farewell for decorated coaches Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt who will both leave their posts after Japan.

Bowe has worked with both having been coached by Gatland during the victorious 2013 Lions tour to Australia.

"They're both incredible in their own right," he said. "They've both won so much.

"They are different coaches. Joe is very hands-on on the training field, taking the attack, having a big say in defence and really in every aspect of the game.

"With Warren, he takes more of a backseat, overseeing things, letting his coaches take things on and being the motivator that he is.

"For Joe, six years and at least three titles, that's an unbelievable record.

"And for Warren Gatland, to have been in Wales for 12 years, that's an incredible stint, to be in charge of one team for that length of time and to be ending that with a chance at a Grand Slam.

"A lot of coaches don't go out, particularly after that long, on the best of terms, so it would be an incredible finish for him in Six Nations terms anyway."

Guinness yesterday brought together former Irish international Tommy Bowe and former Welsh international Adam Jones to highlight rugby's extraordinary capacity to unite. Guinness is a proud supporter of Irish rugby and the title sponsor, official beer and official responsible drinking partner of the Six Nations.

Belfast Telegraph

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