Tommy Bowe is well aware of the high stakes involved in Saturday’s World Cup warm-up match against Scotland – it is a final chance to impress Ireland’s coaching staff ahead of the World Cup squad announcement and the Ulster winger is determined to step up to the mark.
Bowe’s Test career stalled last year due to a combination of injury and loss of form – there was a 13-month gap between his eighth and ninth appearances for Ireland.
The 23-year-old had to bide his time as Shane Horgan, Denis Hickie and his provincial colleague Andrew Trimble got in ahead of him in the fight for the two wing berths.
He returned to the starting line-up for the tour to Argentina but ended up frustrated as he injured himself in the first Test. An Achilles tendon injury had threatened his participation in this weekend’s game, but the Monaghan man is now almost certain to play.
Speaking ahead of his tenth Irish cap, Bowe admitted: “There is a different pressure for this game. This is the biggest game that I’ve played in for a long time – maybe it’s the biggest I’ve played in ever.”
Intriguingly, one of Bowe’s chief rivals for a World Cup spot will line out on the opposite wing in Edinburgh, namely former rugby league star Brian Carney.
Nevertheless, Bowe is looking forward to working together with the Munster man on Saturday despite him being direct competition for a seat on the plane to France.
“Even if Brian Carney hadn’t come in you still look around and see Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald still hot on the heels. There’s also Andrew Trimble and Denis Hickie and Shane Horgan, not to mention Geordan Murphy.
“Competition is very high and places on the wings are keenly contested. But you see very few positions where there is no competition,” he said.
“The best way Brian or I will come out of the match against Scotland is by playing as a team. When it comes down to the game I don’t think the fact we might be competing for the same position in the World Cup squad will be a big problem.
“Both of us will obviously be going out and trying to have as good a game as we can but, at the same time, there’s not really very much we can do.
“As long as you perform well individually and collectively as a team, hopefully the rest will come together.”
Bowe lost his place after admittedly struggling against France in the 2006 Six Nations, but those knocks can only make you a stronger player and he has bounced back from that disappointment as a bulked up and more mature version of the boyish figure who debuted against the USA in 2004.
“I can’t take things for granted. Obviously I slipped up, slipped in a few places. But I’m 23 years-old and will slip and rise over the next few years. I’ve always liked to think I’ve taken pressure quite well and that I can step up to the mark.
“Sometimes I haven’t taken my chances. Against France last year I lost confidence early on in the game and struggled. Soon after that I took a knock and I didn’t know what was going on. Recovering from an early mistake is something I have tried to work on quite a lot over the last year.
“I think that experience is a big thing and now I’ve played enough internationals to know what the standard is and what I need to do in order to perform,” he added.