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Ulster wing Tommy Bowe aims to end Leinster hoodoo

By Jonathan Bradley

While added motivation is scarcely required for an interpro contest, Tommy Bowe admits that the sight of Leinster lifting trophies at their expense in recent years will still rankle somewhat with the Ulster squad ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with the Pro12 Champions at the RDS (SkySports, 2.40pm).

Their southern neighbours have ended Ulster’s season in four consecutive years — semi-final defeats in the Pro12 bookending losses in both European and domestic finals — and while Bowe has only been back in his native province for two of those reverses, he admitted: “There is that, of course.

“We’ve been very close to winning trophies here at Ulster but unfortunately we’ve come up against Leinster when they were one of the top teams in Europe, if not the top team in Europe, over the last couple of years.

“It has been tough to be sent home earlier or to see them lifting trophies but I think now is a good opportunity.

“You have to test yourself against the best and I think this weekend will be a great test.

“We always get excited about the matches against Leinster — they’re always a good team to play against.”

The 30-year-old wing was rested for the Boxing Day victory over Connacht in accordance with the IRFU Player Management Programme but will be named in Neil Doak’s side this afternoon and is looking forward to getting back into the action.

“The interpros are always the games that get the juices flowing and everybody gets excited about them,” said the man who trails only Brian O’Driscoll in Ireland’s all-time try scoring charts,” he said.

“You want to be playing in the big games and nobody needs any motivation to be getting themselves up for these ones.

“I’ve been injured the last two Christmases, but normally I wouldn’t be used to getting any time off around now so whenever you get the chance to take a few days off, let the body rest up and kind of relax a little bit, then it’s always welcome, but of course with missing the Connacht game I’m itching to get myself back out there and nothing is more exciting than going up against Leinster in the RDS.

“It’ll be a difficult match for us obviously, they’ll be hurting from last week’s performance, but I think we’ll be coming in with a bit of confidence.

“The match probably wasn’t the prettiest to watch last weekend but Connacht have made huge improvements this year.

“They’re a strong, strong side in this league.

“They’ll have come up here with every intention of getting a result but we were able to grind out the win in the end.”

On the same day as that triumph at the Kingspan Stadium, Leinster were losing to bitter rivals Munster for the second time this season but, with so many Irish internationals missing, the Monaghan man does not believe that is much of an indicator of their current form.

“They were missing quite a few players but they’ll be hurting anyway,” he said.

“I think Munster, in fairness, played exceptionally well.

“Whoever comes in, or whoever doesn’t come in, they’ll want a big performance.

“We’re starting to find a little bit of form maybe, but we’re definitely not where we want to be, and I’d say Leinster are probably saying something similar.”

And while Matt O’Connor’s men are used to feeling some way from their best at this time of year, Bowe thinks that Ulster can take a leaf out of their book for the season’s remaining months.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve got to this stage and we’re flying as a team and then we kind of maybe stutter a little bit coming into the New Year,” he said.

“We played some good rugby here and there and then we’ve dropped a bit.

“Leinster are the sort of team who are like that but then always finish very strongly and I think that’s what we’re going to be focussing very hard on (for the rest of the season).”

The battle between the Pro12’s fourth and fifth placed teams represents the first game of the new calendar year and, with Bowe such a central figure for Ireland ahead of September’s World Cup, it will be a highly anticipated 2015.

Having missed last year’s Six Nations, as well as the summer tour to Argentina, Bowe was a try-scorer against both South Africa and Australia back in November and was thrilled to be back in Joe Schmidt’s side for the huge challenges ahead.

“I suppose the start of the year was very frustrating for me so I was delighted to get myself back in the Irish set-up but even just back with Ulster as well,” he said.

“It was great to get back playing and feel like I’m playing myself back into form and it’s a huge year ahead.

“It’s exciting and I just want to keep fit and hopefully be a part of it but there’s a lot of competition there.”

Much of that competition will be on show tomorrow and, with Ireland visiting Italy just five weeks from now, many soon-to-be teammates will be pitted against each other.

Ulster’s finisher in chief, however, relishes the scenario that presents.

“I always enjoy it to be honest with you.

“It’s great whenever you step onto the pitch and you’re the greatest of enemies, then the final whistle goes and you have a chat and a bit of craic.”

Even for the ever-affable Bowe, the pleasantries must wait until tomorrow evening.



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