Ireland refusing to panic despite losing sequence
Tommy Bowe insists Ireland are refusing to panic despite slumping to their worst losing sequence for 14 years.
The injury-ravaged Irish were outfought 16-12 by South Africa in their Guinness Series opener, a result that raises the stakes yet higher for their critical showdown with Argentina in two weeks.
Leading 12-3 at the interval and playing all the rugby at the Aviva Stadium, they had the lacklustre Springboks by the jugular.
But they were overpowered in the second half as South Africa inflicted a fifth successive Test defeat on a team that Bowe insists remains in high spirits.
"There really isn't a feeling that the team is going through a difficult period at the moment," he said.
"There's been a lot of confidence in the squad over the last couple of weeks, certainly with the work we've been doing in training.
"Everyone was upbeat and was looking forward to South Africa. I felt that we'd go after them and win - we'd targeted this match. Having lost it we'll have to reassess that.
"It was a disappointing defeat because we had set ourselves up perfectly in the first half.
"We've worked so hard as a team to build a bond, get the intensity and accuracy up.
"It showed at times against South Africa, but when it counted in the second half we weren't able to pull it out."
"There really isn't a feeling that the team is going through a difficult period at the moment" - Tommy Bowe
Ireland had won three of their last four Tests against South Africa and knew they had wasted a great chance to extend their recent mastery of the southern hemisphere giants.
Jonathan Sexton's four penalties were an insufficient return for their first-half superiority and once the canny Springboks had cranked up their power game, Ireland were muscled out of contention.
A pivotal moment was captain Jamie Heaslip's yellow card for collapsing a maul as his line came under attack in the 43rd minute when Ireland led 12-3.
In his absence South Africa scored 10 points to establish a lead they retained throughout a dominant second half and Heaslip later apologised for his indiscipline.
With Lions captains Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell injured, as well as the influential Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien, Heaslip will be looking to provide the spark of inspiration needed against Fiji and Argentina.
Bowe remains confident that Ireland have the personnel to regroup after yesterday's setback.
"The likes of Chris Henry and Mike McCarthy stepped up to the plate, they were outstanding," the Ulster winger said.
"It didn't feel as though there was any real drop around the pitch because of the guys we were missing. No one looked out of place.
"There's been a lot of talk about the guys who are missing, but that will happen and there must be a new breed of player coming through.
"A lot of the guys really put their hand up yesterday and it's disappointing we didn't get the win to show for it.
"We're looking forward to Fiji next week and then obviously we have a massive match against Argentina. It's a case of getting the job done."
While Fiji are the next opponents in Saturday's non-cap international at Thomond Park, it is the showdown with Argentina on November 24 that will dominate the management's thinking.
At stake are ranking points crucial to next month's draw for the 2015 World Cup with defeat to the Pumas, convincing winners against Wales yesterday, potentially dropping Ireland into the third tier of seeds.
A pool featuring New Zealand and France would plunge Lansdowne Road into despair, but full-back Simon Zebo is confident that such a scenario will be avoided.
"If we'd been battered by South Africa and lost the game with no chance of winning then you could say something and we'd be feeling sorry for ourselves," Zebo said.
"But the fact is we had a great first half and were in touching distance throughout the whole game.
"If we were not making chances to score and win we'd be saying something. But the fact is we did, we just didn't take them.
"That was just a little rustiness and hopefully we can remedy that in the next couple of weeks."