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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 21 January, 2019

Bowe laments loss of ‘best opportunity Ulster may ever have’ to win Heineken Cup

The winger had felt that everything was in place for Ulster this year.

Image: Presseye/Brian Little/INPHO

EVEN THE ORDINARILY blue sky thinking Tommy Bowe struggled to find any positives after Ulster’s 14 men came up just short of an unbelievable Heineken Cup result against Saracens last night.

The northern province ended up on the wrong side of a 15 – 17 scoreline, probing for a winner in opposition territory for 35 draining final phases at the end of the game despite playing more than 76 minutes with just 14 men against 15.

Early last week, Bowe was the picture of optimism. He had argued against the Pro12 table to suggest that Ulster were in a better place after losing to Cardiff than they had been after beating Leinster at the same point last season. It turned out he was right.

“I think this was probably one of the best opportunities we’re ever going to have,” Bowe said with a wince after being asked about the pain of another defeat in the chase for Heineken Cup glory.

“The whole build-up, the fact that we had Saracens; who we know are a difficult side to play against, but we felt we had the beating of them.”

As soon as Jared Payne received his marching orders for clattering into Alex Goode as he rose to claim a high ball, Ulster’s senior players switched into overdrive and nobody typified the frantic work-rate more than Bowe. The two-time Lion ended the day as his side’s top ball-carrier, his 13 shots at the Saracens wall was almost double the count from any other player in white.

“We were up against it. To lose one of the back three against Saracens who are pride themselves on their kicking game, it was always going to be extremely difficult for us, but I think we catered to it very well.

“We dug in as a team. We had to do it around the park and it was credit to the squad we’ve got and the talent we’ve got that this team came so close to a win, but to come so close to winning it makes it that bit more difficult.”

Bowe bore the expression of a man whose grand plan had just unraveled before his eyes. With the injury sustained against New Zealand in November preventing Joe Schmidt from making him a late recall to the Six Nations squad, this season must seem like one big ‘nearly’ for Bowe. And that doesn’t count for much in professional sport.

Lost leaders

He may feel differently this morning, or it may take a run-out against Connacht next weekend to put his mind back on track; but last night Bowe was finding it hard to imagine how his side can bounce back with three core members of the pack taking their leave this summer.

“I think Ulster is going to be a tough place without Johann [Muller] and the likes of Tom Court and John Afoa. They’re influential players in this team; massive leaders, very experienced men who the young guys and even the old fellas like me look up to.”

However, he did manage to displace the disappointment in time for his very next sentence.

“They’ll be a massive loss, but we have an excellent structure with a lot of talented young guys coming through. Hopefully there will be a lot more success here for Ulster in the coming years.”

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Sean Farrell

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