ULSTER WINGER TOMMY BOWE is raring to go ahead of the new rugby season and is hoping the addition of new and familiar faces can push the province over the winning line in the big matches.
The Monaghan native will be back in an Ulster jersey this season after a four-year stint at Ospreys in Wales.
He rejoins a side that made the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup in 2010/11 and made it to the final, before losing out to Leinster, at Twickenham last season. Bowe said:
The Heineken Cup is the pinnacle of rugby in Europe and that is where you want to be. I was so jealous watching the guys play in the final last year. Hopefully I can help them get back to that and maybe even go one further.
“It is not only that, it is the league too. We need to be in the top four and the knock-out stages of that too.”
Stories surfaced late last season that Bowe, who scored two magnificent tries for Ireland against France in March, may be snapped up by Leinster but the winger says there was never any doubt about his destination once he had decided upon returning to Ireland.
“I don’t know where that speculation came from,” Bowe admitted.
He added, “There was only one club I was ever going to sign for. Ulster Rugby were fantastic to me whenever I left. It was maybe not the done thing to do at the time but they told me the door would always be open if I wanted to come back.”
Ulster captain Rory Best is one week into his pre-season. He was offered an extra week off after the domestic and international exploits of an 11-month season that encompassed two tours in New Zealand and Ulster’s march to the Heineken Cup Final.
“We talked a lot about the success we had last year and the way it helped us, on and off the pitch,” said Best. “It is important that we build on that and really push on this year.” He added:
When you look at the quality players that we’ve brought in, we are a much stronger squad this season … we have to put pressure on ourselves to outperform last year.
Flanker Stephen Ferris has been back in the pre-season mix since mid July after coming through successful surgeries on calf and thumb niggles.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “We had our first bit of contact today and some live mauls so it was great to get back into it.”
Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris, Peter Russell from BT and Rory Best. (©INPHO/Cathal Noonan)
The Ulster trio were speaking at a sponsorship announcement with communications company BT at Ravenhill on Tuesday afternoon. The company’s logo will on the sleeves of playing kits for the next three seasons.
Peter Russell played with the province in the 1980s and 90s and has witnessed a large upturn in terms of support and on-field success.
“Last year was a really superlative year,” he said, “the only proviso is, with that, comes the expectation and, as an Ulster supporter myself, the expectation is very high.”
He added, “I’m sure the guys know that and are ready.”