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Ulster rocked by Bowe's exit as Best bids to seal new deal

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster and Ireland rugby are preparing to say an emotional goodbye to one of their favourite sons after Tommy Bowe announced yesterday that this will be his final season.

The 33-year-old, currently out with a shoulder problem and after a few injury-plagued years, will hang up his boots as one of the nation's most decorated pro players with 69 Ireland caps to his name, a key role in the side's first Grand Slam in 51 years and five Lions Test appearances.

While Bowe's days in the Ulster jersey are numbered, his long-time skipper and team-mate Rory Best says he expects his own playing future to be decided before the start of the Six Nations in a little over two and a half weeks' time.

The 35-year-old is one of the last remaining central contracts to be sorted by the IRFU, but the hooker expects movement on his deal to come before Ireland take on France in Paris on February 3.

Despite knowing that any extension would almost certainly be the last of his career, the two-time British and Irish Lion has shown no signs of slowing down lately and has not ruled out playing on until the 2019 World Cup in Japan, by which time he'll be 37.

"I'd like to know one way or the other what I'm going to be doing before the start of the Six Nations," he said yesterday.

"If I'm going to be playing, where I'm going to be playing and how long I'm going to be playing for, the plan will be to get that finalised in the next couple of weeks.

"I have a better idea of how I feel (now) and nothing has really changed for me.

"I just have to make sure that they (the IRFU) feel the same. We'll have a good chat with Joe (Schmidt) again soon and see where we're at."

Despite Tadhg Furlong, CJ Stander and Peter O'Mahony inking deals before Christmas, injuries and the tragic death of IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora's daughter last month have led to the delay in getting Best's terms over the line.

"It would have been done," Best explained. "I was chatting to David Nucifora but then with the hamstring injury, he sort of said, 'I don't want to be pestering you now'.

"We left it at that and said we'd talk when I was back. That then ended up corresponding with coming into the autumn internationals and I didn't really want to be thinking about anything else apart from those Tests.

"It bought me a little bit of time to let me think about whether I still wanted to play international rugby.

"I met David at the end of November and said we'd get the ball rolling and then unfortunately, what happened with his daughter put a stop to that. That puts everything into perspective, when something like that happens you don't mind waiting."

Meanwhile, Craig Gilroy seems set for another spell on the sidelines with fears he has broken his cheekbone. He has been ruled out of Sunday's European clash with Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.

• Rory Best was speaking at an event to promote Glenisk GO-YOs and the IRFU's Official Trading Cards. Parents can sign their kids up for a free Collector's Album and Starter Pack at www.Glenisk.com

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