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Sunday 17 December 2017

More than one string to Tommy's Bowe

Winger wants Ireland's first in five over England

Tommy Bowe, Ireland, in action against Scott Spedding, France. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v France. Aviva Stadium
Tommy Bowe, Ireland, in action against Scott Spedding, France. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v France. Aviva Stadium
Cadbury Boost was unveiled today by Tommy Bowe as the official chocolate bar of the IRFU at the launch of the new partnership between Cadbury and the IRFU at the Aviva Stadium.

Tommy Bowe had one of his best games for Ireland against France.

Not many noticed.

That's okay with him, because his coach Joe Schmidt would have.

The Monaghan man made his name in the game out of his timing onto the ball and his X-Factor finishing.

He hasn't been a two-time British & Irish Lion for his marketable good looks alone.

Nevertheless, the 30 year-old has had to sacrifice the glamour goal of try-scoring for the more mundane basics of wing play, which form a core element of his coach's strategy.

"To be part of a winning team, you'd be happy to do whatever," he said.

"The first two games of this campaign, yeah, I suppose I've had to do other areas of the back three job that are very important and certainly areas Joe likes to concentrate a lot on.

"As back three players, his wingers have to be able to play 13 and have to be able to play 15, have to be good in the air, good at competing for the ball."

It was noticeable how Jonathan Sexton targeted the fallibility of Teddy Thomas under the high ball from restarts last Saturday.

The novice French talent is weak in an area where there are few better than Bowe, a former exponent of the art of high-fielding in Gaelic football.

"I suppose it's definitely done me no harm," he said.

"In rugby, I suppose you would sit and wait for the ball to come to you a lot.

"In Gaelic football, it's all about attacking the ball. Maybe that's something that has helped me.

"It's an area of my game I pride myself on and work a lot on and it's good to be able to exploit it."

Ireland will move from the brute force of France to the more structured physicality of England on Sunday week.

There will be grunt and growl up front and there will be something more subtle at work in behind where Ireland will have to subdue Stuart Lancaster's latest great white-rose hope in the centre Jonathan Joseph.

Bowe was not willing to be drawn into a debate between the merits of Joseph and Robbie Henshaw.

Who is the better? "It's hard to say now, I've only seen bits and pieces of Jonathan Joseph," said Bowe. "Certainly with ball in hand he's very exciting, fast feet, very quick. He seems to be decent under the high ball, seems to have good handling skills as well.

"Joseph is certainly a player we'll have to keep an eye on too.

"He's full of confidence, they like giving him the ball in hand early and he seems to be able to evade tackles and get out of challenges, whatever way he can."

Bowe's Ulster team-mate Jared Payne will be the designated defender for Joseph as the New Zealander will surely look to add his natural attacking skills to his defensive steel against Italy and France.

The reason why Schmidt has inserted Payne into the outside centre berth is that he is the one that comes closest to replicating Brian O'Driscoll, in terms of experience and skills.

"There's a huge amount more to come from Jared, the more he grows comfortable in that position in Ireland," he said. "He's just one of these players who seems to have an awful lot of time on the ball.

"He is certainly good to play outside of at Ulster, puts you in space, has great ideas and he's going to be a real class act for us."

The Irish streak of nine straight comes within one of the record set back in 2003 by Eddie O'Sullivan's lot. It has made winning a habit that is hard to break, even harder to give up. "It does give huge confidence, probably on the pitch whenever we do get into a sticky situation," shared Bowe.

"Like at the weekend when France pulled it back and it could have been just that one score, they had us on the ropes."

After all this time, Bowe conceded that the last game before the start of the nine was the catalyst for it.

Bowe added: "We go back a lot to think about that All Blacks game. It plays still in my mind. Having the ability to know in the last five, 10, 15 minutes that we can pull something out of the bag if we need to win is a huge confidence boost for a team.

"I think that's shown with us being able to get the nine wins in a row."

There is more than one streak on the line.

There are the nine Ireland have won and there are the last four they have lost to England stretching back to their last victory in March 2011.

"I didn't even know that was the stat, but that's not great reading. But I think that we'll be confident about them coming to the Aviva. They're playing some outstanding rugby at the minute. They've got some really classy players in the backline.

"Certainly with the interest of everybody talking about the England match, the Irish public and Irish team will certainly be up for it." Nine days and counting.

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