'If I was Warren Gatland, I'd be taking Tommy Bowe on tour'

Ulster’s backs coach Jonny Bell knows how it feels to be awaiting an important Lions squad announcement.

Tommy Bowe in action on the 2009 tour.
Tommy Bowe in action on the 2009 tour.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

JONNY BELL WAS a 21-cap Ireland international when selection time came for the 1997 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 1997.

The 23-year-old centre had scored tries, that year, against Italy and Wales and his name was mentioned in selection circles. Unfortunately for him, Ireland had just endured a woeful Five Nations – winning only one game, against Wales.

16 years later and Bell, now a backs coach at Ulster, remembers the weeks and months leading up to that tour and his battles with focusing on his provincial and international rugby when conservations so often turned to the Lions.

He told, “In ’97, I had a good start to the season. Ireland had a difficult championship but I was in the preliminary squad.

The coaches [led by Ian McGeechan] leaned towards Will Greenwood and he went as a bolter. That was as close as I got.”

Jonny Bell scores against Wales in 1997. (©INPHO/Patrick Bolger)

Tommy Bowe got closer than his coach in 2009 and started all three Tests against the Springboks. With Ulster flying high in the Pro12 late last year, and with Bowe scoring twice against Argentina for his country, squad selection for the 2013 tour seemed inevitable.

The winger hyper-extended his knee against Northampton Saints in December and, despite a comeback that includes a try in his first league start, selection in Warren Gatland’s squad is far from certain. Bell, however, feels the Monaghan man should travel.

He said, “If I was Warren Gatland I’d be taking Tommy Bowe on tour. He has shown what he is capable he is since he came back and he is a world-class player.

He wants a Lions tour and a Pro12 title for Ulster this season. If all things go to plan in the next few weeks, he’ll have a chance.”

Bell added, “It is the pinnacle of every rugby player’s career. Tommy Bowe has the credentials. He has been there before and done it.”

Warren Gatland will announce his preliminary touring squad in London on 30 April.

*This afternoon, Ulster nominated the RDS in Dublin as its ‘home’ venue for a potential Pro12 Final on Saturday, 25 May.

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