Tommy Bowe: 'Beating Australia was great but it doesn't compare to the Six Nations'
Ireland wing is keen to play a part in the Six Nations for the first time in three seasons
Last year, Tommy Bowe had to sit out his second consecutive Six Nations as Ireland made their way onto the Championship roll of honour.
The only consolation the Ulsterman could take was that he didn't have to turn up and give a rendition of the 'The Black Velvet Band' as he so unforgettably did outside the Mansion House the day after the 2009 Grand Slam.
"Seeing them win the Six Nations last year, I just had to turn into a supporter like everybody else," he accepted.
He had to endure the torture of watching what was unfolding in Paris without being able to influence it, seeing Andrew Trimble have the season of his life and witnessing the arrival of Dave Kearney as a legitimate international force.
The Monaghan wing has not been totally redundant from the high octane atmosphere of international rugby.
He has been available for those spicy Autumn internationals against the best of the southern hemisphere.
He was getting back to somewhere near his best with tries against South Africa and Australia last November.
But this is something different
"It doesn't compare with the Six Nations," he said. "It's what you grow up watching, the excitement of it and the buzz around the country shows that.
"I've missed being involved in it. It's tough having to watch it.
"But, fingers crossed, I will get some game time over the next couple of weeks and look forward to being part of it again."
It would seem the boot is on the other foot, so to speak, this time as Bowe is fighting fit, while Trimble and Kearney have been fighting their way back from injury.
The last time Ireland went to Rome in the Six Nations, they came out on the wrong side of a loss as everything that could go wrong did go wrong back in March 2013.
Keith Earls and Luke Marshall were lost to injury, Brian O'Driscoll was binned and replacement Luke Fitzgerald didn't last long either, leaving Ireland with Peter O'Mahony on the wing before the half-time whistle sounded.
Although Bowe was spared the ignominy of being a part of Ireland's only defeat to Italy in the Six Nations, he does heed the warning from it, especially with the Irish escaping by the skin of their teeth 13-11 two years earlier.
"It took a Ronan O'Gara drop goal in the last minute to seal the win so we're under no illusions. It's a really tough place to go. The Italians back themselves at home.
"There's 70,000 people, it's a huge intimidating crowd. We'll be going out there, we'll be fully focussed. We'll be confident but, at the same time, we'll be aware of what's coming to us."
In fact, the last time Bowe tasted Six Nations action was back in 2012 when he plundered five tries, one against Wales, two against Italy and two against France.
He currently stands comparison with any who have gone before him in the green of Ireland with a stunning strike rate of one try in every two internationals or 28 in 56.
Of course, every wing is only as good as the service with which he is provided and Bowe has been taken with what Darren Cave has produced for his province this season during an extended stay at thirteen due to Jared Payne's foot injury.
"I think that Darren has probably been the most in-form player in Ulster this season," he said.
"He had a hat-trick two weeks ago against Leicester. I think he's scored seven tries in the last seven or eight (it's 10). He's a great organiser for us in Ulster in the backline."
In fact, Cave was playing so well that Payne was relocated to full-back on his return last month and there is even talk of him unseating Payne for Ireland in the race to join Robbie Henshaw in the midfield.
"I certainly know Joe (Schmidt) rates him as a player," added Bowe.
"I think everyone down here rates him. He has been an excellent player for Ulster over the years.
"But I think this year and at the end of last year he has really stepped up his game."
This is within the timeline Cave had to take detailed information from Joe Schmidt on what he had to do to move into Ireland contention.
"Listen, he gets stuck in. He is well able to crash the ball up. He's well able to take players on. But he's also a good player to play off as well.
"This could be his opportunity. Who knows what could happen?"