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Dublin: 18 °C Tuesday 16 July, 2019
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'I was wondering if I was going to ever experience that winning feeling again'

Tommy Bowe faces his former club tonight in what could be one of the final acts of his glittering career.

Bowe is hoping to make a big impact off the bench.
Bowe is hoping to make a big impact off the bench.
Image: Kevin Barnes/INPHO

THE FACT TONIGHT could be the last time Tommy Bowe plays in Belfast is not lost on him — ‘yeah, yeah it could’ — but the Ulster winger is instead focused on pushing his retirement date as far back as possible by helping the province salvage something from a miserable season.

The visit of in-form Ospreys to Kingspan Stadium [KO 7.35pm, BBC NI] is a significant game in the context of the race for the Pro14 playoffs but it carries added poignancy for Bowe, who comes up against his former club in what will be one of, if not, the final acts of a glittering career.

After last week’s bonus-point victory in Edinburgh breathed new life into Ulster’s hopes of a top-three finish, they have now entered must-win territory as they look to sneak into the quarter-finals with a late salvo.

The gloom hanging over the club was temporarily lifted last weekend but Ulster, having lacked consistency and confidence all campaign, now need to back it up and record consecutive victories for the first time since December.

“One win is not going to make our season, we need to back it up this weekend,” Bowe says.

“For me it will be a special game against Ospreys, but there’s a lot to play for and there’s a huge weight off our shoulders with that win.

“We need to back it up and if we can get on a run, who knows what can happen.”

Nothing less than five points will do, but that won’t be easy against a side who have mounted a late challenge of their own, with Ospreys still in with a chance of Champions Cup qualification having picked up 24 points from their last six outings

As for Ulster, they are now back in contention for the playoffs and with a game in hand — against Glasgow at home next week — before the final round fixture away to Munster, have a chance of eating into the eight point lead Edinburgh currently hold over them.

“For the last month or two I haven’t really been part of the team, we haven’t won with me in the team since Harlequins away,” Bowe continues.

Tommy Bowe crosses the line to score his sides opening try Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It’s a long time and I was wondering if I was ever going to experience again. That buzz of winning, there’s nothing quite like it.

“I’d love to be able to recreate that at the weekend against my old club in front of a home crowd, these are the sort of games you relish the most and hopefully we’ll get the win and keep going from there.

“We’ve been training hard, pushing ourselves and Jono has been demanding so much from ourselves. We’ve got to be pushing for the playoffs, as a squad, as a team and as a club we want to push ourselves for the top, we see ourselves being at the top, and it has been a frustrating and disappointing season but we’re back in it now and it’s in our hands to push on now.”

The 34-year-old is named on the bench again after playing 45 minutes at Murrayfield last week, with Gibbes making four changes in personnel from that starting XV, all of which come in the pack.

Callum Black and Ross Kane come into the front row, either side of captain Rory Best, while Kieran Treadwell starts in the second row and Sean Reidy is named at number eight.

Allen Clarke, the former Ulster hooker and forwards coach, has made three changes to the Ospreys side that started last week’s 39-10 defeat of Connacht.

Centre Owen Watkin comes in for Ashley Beck, while Guy Mercer and Ma’afu Fia drop down to the bench to be replaced by Adam Beard and Dmitri Arhip respectively, with captain Alun Wyn Jones set to make his 150th appearance in the Pro14.

Allen Clarke Source: Alex Davidson/INPHO

“Collectively we have the utmost respect for Ulster,” Clarke said. “They picked up an impressive win last weekend and they have their own reasons for needing the victory. It’s an important game for both teams.

“We know what we have to do, every game is crucial now, but we have to enjoy the challenge.

“The outlook in the squad is positive, there’s a collective belief in what we are trying to do, and an understanding of what is in store for us in Belfast on Friday night.

“It’s going to be tough, there’ll be a big passionate crowd there as there always is, and we fully respect the challenge ahead.”

Ulster:

15. Charles Piutau
14. Louis Ludik
13. Darren Cave
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny McPhillips
9. John Cooney

1. Callum Black
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Ross Kane
4. Kieran Treadwell
5. Iain Henderson
6. Matty Rea
7. Jean Deysel
8. Sean Reidy

Replacements:

16. Rob Herring
17. Andy Warwick
18. Tom O’Toole
19. Alan O’Connor
20. Nick Timoney
21. Dave Shanahan
22. Luke Marshall
23. Tommy Bowe

Ospreys:

15 Dan Evans
14 Jeff Hassler
13 Kieron Fonotia
12 Owen Watkin
11 Hanno Dirksen
10 Dan Biggar
9 Tom Habberfield

1 Nicky Smith
2 Scott Otten
3 Dmitri Arhip
4 Bradley Davies
5 Adam Beard
6 Alun Wyn Jones (captain)
7 Sam Cross
8 James King

Replacements:

16 Ifan Phillips
17 Rhodri Jones
18 Ma’afu Fia
19 Lloyd Ashley
20 Guy Mercer
21 Matthew Aubrey
22 Sam Davies
23 James Hook.

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