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World Cup misery haunts Tommy Bowe

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

A newly married man Tommy Bowe may be, but he still has heartbreak on his mind.

Wales loom into view for Ireland on Saturday and for those still standing from the 2011 World Cup campaign, Warren Gatland's team bring up bad memories.

Brian O'Driscoll has described the 22-10 defeat in Wellington four years ago as his biggest disappointment and, for Bowe, it hasn't been surpassed since.

Ireland went into that quarter-final on the crest of a wave, but met a Wales side surfing an even greater tide and Declan Kidney's men were left with a sense of what might have been.

Since then, Bowe has been part of Lions tours and Six Nations success but the World Cup remains the biggest unchecked box on his to-do list.

"Anybody who was involved against Wales in the quarter-final four years ago, I've never experienced heartbreak like it," he recalled.

"Nothing against Wales, they were the better team on the day and outplayed us, but it still eats back at me, that we had the opportunity to make it to the semi-final to play France. You always think, 'what if?'

"We had beaten Australia to top our group, the craic among the squad on and off the pitch... it was just a great tour.

"We're going into this competition with maybe a bit more pressure on us because people will have a bit more expectation, but as a squad we know we have one of the best opportunities we've had.

"So, as a player, you'd love to be a part of it and to see how far we can go.

"It all depends how the next couple of weeks go, they're crucial. The first two games have been good, we got two outstanding wins, but we need to push it on another level over the next two weeks then to really get ourselves up to the level that we want to be at."

When pressed on what went wrong on that fateful day four years ago, Bowe struggles for specifics.

"Unfortunately, I can't pinpoint anything," he said with a hint of exasperation.

"They just came out and blew us off the park, which is what Wales can do. I've played against them plenty of times when they've done it.

"We were going into it confident and would have been favourites, but they just had the mental edge to it and they took their chances.

"We had one or two chances that we didn't convert and that was the telling difference.

"As disappointing ones go, it's right up there because there's so much at stake."

The stakes are decidedly less this weekend as the two sides meet for the second time in a month, but for certain individuals this will be as big as a knockout game as they look to impress Joe Schmidt enough to nail down a place in the final 31-man squad.

Bowe is the kind of character who needs a few games to hit his straps and found the Scotland game "frustrating".

He finds himself in heavy traffic on the wing, by far the most competitive position in the squad, but has banked plenty of experience under Schmidt who has always picked him when fit.

Still, he feels the nerves and wants to play against Wales.

"The back three at the minute is outrageous with the competition," he said. "All of the lads are looking sharp at training as well, everyone has put their hand up and, never mind the flight, everyone is gunning hard to play.

"It's nerve-wracking for players, what can you do? All you can do is your best and it's in the coach's hands.

"There will be one or two people that miss out, I hope I make it out there. Experience counts for nothing at this stage, I think that's one of the things that Joe and the coaches push.

"Resting on your laurels isn't good enough, that's what drives everyone to keep getting better and pushing each other.

"You want to try and show your best abilities and it will come down to the coaches making a decision, there's not too much more you can do.

"When you do get that opportunity, you have to take it."

At 31, Bowe knows that this will probably be his last tilt at a World Cup and his recent marriage to long-time girlfriend Lucy Whitehouse emphasises his position as one of the senior professionals in the Irish set-up.

While others used their summer break to tune up in the gym, the newly-weds headed for the Maldives and Dubai on honeymoon and the winger has no regrets.

"It probably wasn't the smartest move to get married and go off on a honeymoon," he laughed. "But I'm not one to lose track on holidays.

"Putting on weight isn't a massive issue for me at the best of times so I went across and enjoyed my honeymoon, of course I did, but I was never fearful that I'd come back in the worst shape of my life or to not be in the sort of shape I want to be at the World Cup.

"I've done pre-season enough times to know that it takes me a week or two to get up to full speed.

"Personal time is very important for one and it's a big thing in my opinion that we play for 11 months of the year. Potentially, this year we'll be on the road for 12 months.

"If I manage to make it to the World Cup and then play provincial and international rugby during the year there's going to be a huge workload put on the body this year.

"So, when you do get an opportunity to put your legs up and let your body heal I think it's very important to take it, because there will be a point in the season that it could become too much."

Since returning, it has been full steam ahead and Bowe hopes to get another run-out against Wales as Schmidt ramps up preparations.

"The games coming in over the next few weeks, the guys that are going to the World Cup will see it go up another level and that's where you will be living out of your suitcase from then on," he said.

"It's another step up again, it will be a contrast between players who need a bit of game time and players getting back.

"It's Wales' first game since we beat them and they'll be gunning for it."

Seven Scotland players have been told their World Cup dream is over after head coach Vern Cotter released them from his extended training squad ahead of next month's tournament.

Five Edinburgh players - wings Dougie Fife and Damien Hoyland, prop Allan Dell, lock Ben Toolis and back-row forward Hamish Watson - are no longer required, along with Glasgow wing Rory Hughes and his colleague, prop Mike Cusack.

Cotter's announcement comes prior to Saturday's third World Cup warm-up, when Italy arrive at Murrayfield. He will reveal his final 31-man squad on September 1.

Belfast Telegraph


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