We were lucky enough to catch up with rugby star and Ulster graduate Tommy Bowe before the Rugby World Cup to ask him about his sporting career, what he thinks of Ireland’s chances in the competition, and what his plans are for the future.
Who is the best player you have played against and why?
The player I always used to dread coming up against was Shane Williams, he was so small and fast off the mark and could sidestep very well at top speed, so it was hard to lay a finger on him. Thankfully I ended up playing on his team when I went to the Ospreys.
What has been the stand-out moment in your career to date?
I am fortunate that I have a few – getting my first Irish cap and Lions cap will always be amazing memories but winning the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009 will always be the number one.
If you could go back and change one moment, what would it be?
It would probably be something in the game against Wales in the World Cup in 2011. We had an amazing chance to create history but ended up losing, which is definitely my worst memory in rugby.
What does the training regime look like for the Rugby World Cup?
Pre-season training started at the end of June and we will be together as a squad for around 11 weeks, getting ourselves in the best possible shape for the World Cup. Once it starts it can last another six or seven weeks so it will be a very intense but fun time.
You have had to deal with injuries recently – how are you feeling now – ready for September?
Injuries unfortunately are part and parcel of the sport we play, most of the time they are very minor and I’ve been lucky in the last 12 months to be pretty much injury free. It is never easy dealing with being injured but being part of a team makes it easier as we rely on each other to get motivated and be back playing as soon as possible.
The Irish rugby team is currently ranked third in the world – does this create added pressure entering the World Cup?
There is going to be pressure and expectation on us going into the World Cup. We have won the Six Nations back-to-back so we know that brings pressure but with that we take great confidence. We want to go to the World Cup and be as successful as we can and I think with the squad and coaching set-up we have a great opportunity.
Do you agree that Ireland are in a position to win the tournament for the first time in their history?
I think you have to go into a competition always believing you can win. We have a lot of tough games but if we can make it through to the knockout stages anything can happen.
There is a rumour that Ireland may bid for the next Rugby World Cup in 2023 – do you think this could be a possibility?
I think it would be amazing for Ireland to host the 2023 World Cup, I have seen first-hand what Irish supporters are like for these sort of competitions in other countries so I think it would be a whole new level in our own country and a massive world spectacle. We have the facilities so I think it’s a great idea.
Ireland has the benefit of the recently-renovated Aviva Stadium – do you feel that the current stadia in Northern Ireland is enough or could there be an improvement?
I know with the work completed on Ulster’s home ground, the Kingspan Stadium, it is one of the best rugby stadiums in European rugby. The National Football Stadium for Northern Ireland at Windsor Park is currently being redeveloped and of course if the plans for Casement Park go ahead it will be a super stadium to hopefully use for such a world-recognised tournament.
You studied at Ulster University and graduated with a degree in Construction Engineering. Do you feel your time at university let you balance your studies and your sports training?
Yes I really enjoyed being able to mix being a student and also balance it with playing rugby. My first two years when I was only getting into the Ulster set-up made it easier for me to get to classes and get through the first few years of exams. Playing professional rugby is a full-time job, we are in training for the majority of the day so getting the time to fit in study is difficult. It is something I’m very proud of, getting my degree while playing sport full-time and hopefully it will come in handy after my rugby career is over.
You did a lot of sport at school, from playing Gaelic football to running. At what point did you know you wanted to play rugby professionally?
Growing up I played as much sport as I could and I was always keen to have a go at everything but Gaelic football and rugby were the two sports I was most serious about. When I was 17 I had to choose between the two and rugby was always my first love. It was only after leaving school and getting into the Ulster Academy that the dream of being a professional and getting paid to do what I love most became a reality.
What advice would you give any budding rugby players out there? What steps should they take to work towards playing professionally?
There is a huge amount of talk about rugby players being so big now and size is what’s most important. I don’t agree with this, the difference between the players at the top level are the core skills (catching, passing and decision making). Eventually the sizes of players will equal out and then it’s the players with the best skills that will make it to the top.
You received the honorary degree of doctor of science for your contribution to sport last year from Ulster University – how did you feel coming back and receiving your award?
It was an enormous honour for me and a massive shock. I have great memories of studying at Ulster University and I am very grateful for all the support I received to help me get my original degree. I have been fortunate to play a sport I love for a living and for the University to reward me for that was a real privilege. To be awarded alongside such great names as AP McCoy and Brendan Rogers was crazy. I’m still getting plenty of stick from the rugby lads about it!
Congratulations on your recent marriage! Do you have any other big plans off the rugby field?
No I think Lucy and I will enjoy married life for a while. We had a great time organising the wedding and had a great weekend so it will be nice to relax for a while. Unfortunately for me with the World Cup coming up I’m afraid I won’t get to relax too much.
What does life look life after rugby?
Life after rugby is always a scary thought, I am not exactly sure what I would like to get into but I hope to move into business of some sort. I look forward to the challenge that this will bring and hopefully I can take the experience and skills that rugby has taught me into any future business ventures.