Daniel Bowden: “I want to play at the top level, and that is Test Rugby.”

With nearly 24 hours to go until London Irish kick off the new Premiership season against Harlequins at Twickenham, Dan Bowden sounds like a busy man on the phone. One of London Irish’s key players last season, the fly-half or inside centre is on a break in between training sessions, as the last minute details are fine tuned and messages put across from coaches to the eager squad before the opening match of the season.

After the disappointment of last season, where Irish went from topping the table at Christmas before catastrophically losing their way, and ending up on the wrong side of the scoreline 10 consecutive times in a row. For Bowden, those dark moments can only help Irish this season. “We looked back and reflected on what went wrong, and took a lot out of it in terms of what we needed to improve on. Whilst the run was very negative, the way we bounced back afterwards was encouraging, and we still managed to play enough good rugby to get us back into the Heineken Cup which was a big boost.”

Irish, much like Sale and London Wasps, have made a whole handful of changes over the summer to their squad. Head coach Toby Booth spoke in the press last week how certain players had perhaps drained the squad of some energy and enthusiasm during the end of last season, but the new players coming in over the off-season have had the opposite effect according to Bowden. “There’s a lot of new people who have brought plenty of enthusiasm and excitement, and they’ve picked the rest of the boys up. We have lots of young guys, the average age is 22 and 23 in the back line for example, and there’s even 17 year old Anthony Watson flying around as well, so they’re all keeping us on edge.”

Bowden of course is far from an old man himself at the age of 25. Currently halfway through a two year deal with the Exiles, his attention will eventually turn to the future, and whether to continue playing in Europe or move back home to play Super Rugby and to the lure of playing for the All Blacks. “I’d definitely consider staying, it’s a great club which I love being a part of. I really don’t know yet, but I’ll have to make up my mind around December or January.”

Although Irish’s stand-in captain might not be weighing up the decision just yet, it appears that the media here in the UK is already focusing their attention on where he might end up. “It’s been mentioned a lot by other people to be honest, I even saw a couple of articles in the paper the other day which to be honest I knew nothing about so that came as a surprise! I’m only focusing on this season, and making sure that I play well enough, and lead by example being captain at the moment. In the back of the mind, I know I’ll have to make a decision, but I’m not thinking too far ahead.”

The reason for the speculation about Bowden’s future lies in the fact that he has impressed in a position where England have lacked a genuine star since Will Greenwood; the dreaded inside centre slot. Whether Bowden is that man is still out in the open, but the former back for the Crusaders and Highlanders (right) holds a British passport, and stated that he would jump at the chance to play international rugby for England, following in the footsteps of Kiwi and one-time London Irish players Riki Flutey and Shontayne Hape. “If the opportunity to get involved with England came around, then I’d love to get involved for sure. I would have to put my cards on the table and work out where I am going to succeed, whether that is here in England or back in New Zealand, but I want to play at the top level and that is Test match rugby.”

On the subject of New Zealand, Bowden was quick to back his home nation for victory in the Rugby World Cup, kicking off in just a week’s time, stating that if he didn’t then various friends and family would not be pleased. He added though that the All Blacks might not have it all their own way. “England performed pretty well in Dublin, whilst Australia look in top form following their win in Brisbane last weekend. I know it sounds very cheesy but it really does come down to how each team performs on their day. If the conditions are miserable then you can’t rule out sides such as South Africa or England because they play very well in those conditions and know how to win World Cups.”

Despite being around 11,400 miles away from where the All Blacks will kick off the World Cup against Tonga in Auckland on September 9th, Bowden has been in touch with some of his former team mates in the squad and commented that the mood seemed positive. “Although history shows with the All Blacks at the World Cup that they’ve got a bit of a problem when it comes down to the crunch, I’ve had contact with some of the boys in the squad and they all seem pretty relaxed at the moment. There is obviously a huge expectation in New Zealand, but they are more than able to handle it.”

But for Bowden, the focus now is on this season with Irish, which along with another attempt to make the play-offs and hit the heights of the 2008/2009 season where they reached the Premiership final, includes an exciting Heineken Cup group including Racing M├ętro 92, Cardiff, and Edinburgh. For him, that’s all that matters. “Personally, I’m starting to get pretty excited about getting back into the play-offs, and getting the team to number one.”

by Ben Coles

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