It must be hoped that reports of Tommy Bowe’s tour ending injury have been greatly exaggerated. The Lions are not blessed with a preponderance of footballers in the backs, but Bowe is one of them as he once again demonstrated against the Reds on Saturday night.
Bowe’s match only lasted 45 minutes before he finally succumbed to the broken bone in his hand, but there were two moments of magic that stood out in the first half. The first was in defence when Bowe had to cover a 15 metre 2 on 1 against the Reds centre and the flier Rod Davies.
Bowe held his position on an inside angle long enough to convince Fainga’a to pass and he then spun out to make the tackle on Davies as he cut inside. It looked a hopeless situation, and it really should have been given the time Cooper had made for his outside backs, but Bowe’s footballing instincts saved the day.
There was then that run in attack when Bowe cut an inside angle off the pass and shimmied past three defenders. Was there just a whisper of David Duckham in the sway of the hips. Maybe. Then with little support at the end of the run, and the Lions support lines weren’t great all night, Bowe made the only pass that was conceivable. Yes, it bounced, but the vision to get it out past two covering defenders would have been beyond most of the backs in the party.
Sadly Alex Cuthbert was unable to finish on a night so unfortunate that you wondered how he ever sneaked into the original squad. Cuthbert only needed to straighten and fend over the last five metres to the line, but he kept on the angle and was shuffled into touch.
The Reds targeted Cuthbert and exposed considerable fault lines. They pulled him inside more than once and then passed into the space he had left. They sucked him into an unnecessary tackle and kicked into the space behind. And Cuthbert it was who allowed himself to be run off the tackle when Luke Morahan broke for the opening try.
With Bowe now likely to miss the first test Gatland must be concerned by his wings. George North did a number of excellent things against the Reds, but the big man can be dozy at times and he was caught out for the Reds second try. A poor chip ahead gifted back possession and North was so slow to get back that the Reds were able to exploit the hole he had left. At this rate Simon Zebo should not give up hope of making the test team.
Where you wonder are the likes of Gerald Davies, ‘Dai’ Duckham, JJ Williams, Ieuan Evans, Jason Robinson and Shane Williams, the dancing men with minds as quick as their feet. Is wing play, the noble Bowe aside, at an all time low in the British Isles and Ireland.
But it was that sort of night, a game of highs and lows, as Stuart Hogg will testify having experienced a number of both. Even the excellent Geoff Parling spilled the odd ball in contact. Ben Youngs made a strong case for test selection with the try that turned the match – he even set up the move that led to it with his arcing run off three inside dummy runners who made the space for North – and some important defence, but he too lost the odd ball in contact.
Toby Faletau had an absolute nightmare, spilling ball after ball and being turned over from an attacking scrum, but his back row colleague Dan Lydiate made a number of influential tackles. Like I said, a night of highs and lows for nearly everyone.
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