Tommy Bowe will return to Heineken Cup quarter-finalists, Ulster Rugby, next season on a deal which will keep him in Ireland until 2015.
Following agreement from his current club Ospreys, Bowe has been given early release from his contract with the club to allow him to take up a new contract with the IRFU and to play with Ulster, who meet Irish rivals Munster in the Heineken Cup quarter-final on 8 April, for the next three years.
Bowe began his professional career with Ulster, making a try scoring debut for the province in the 2003/04 season. His elevation to the senior Ulster team followed selection for the Ulster schools team and also playing at full back and wing for the Ireland U21 team in 2004, being part of the squad that reached the final of the IRB under 21 World Cup, but was ruled out of the semi final and final due to injury.
He won his first cap for Ireland against the USA in the old Lansdowne Road the following season, scoring a try on his debut in November 2004. He continued to play for Ulster for the following three seasons, amassing 91 appearances and scoring 34 tries. During that time, he was part of the Ulster team that won the 2004/05 Celtic League.
At the end of the 2007/08 seasons he moved to the Ospreys and continued to represent Ireland, being part of the side that won the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009 and was also selected to tour South Africa with the British & Irish Lions, playing in six games including all three test matches.
He was selected in the Ireland squad for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, scoring two tries against the USA in New Plymouth and has continued that form by scoring five tries so far in the RBS Six Nations Championship for Ireland top to add to his total of 22 Heineken Cup tries.
Bowe, a Ravenhill favourite, has enjoyed his spell in Wales, but is looking forward to returning to Belfast and said: "Obviously, I have mixed emotions. I'm sad to be leaving a club and a region that I have been proud to call my home for the last three years and that has improved me immeasurably both as a rugby player and as a person. I am indebted to the staff, coaches, management, team mates and fans of the Ospreys, for welcoming me so warmly and making my time here so special.
"That said, I am also delighted to be returning to Ulster, the province I grew up wanting to play for and where my family live. David Humphreys was a mentor of mine in my early playing days and we have remained friends during my time at the Ospreys. His vision for Ulster is impressive, with Ulster born players at the core of this vision. I hope to repay the IRFU and Ulster's faith in me by contributing to a team that is already delivering. The vibe at Ulster is undeniably positive. I've been training and playing with some of the Ulster boys during the Six Nations and there is a real energy and sense of anticipation as to what lies ahead for this Ulster team".
Ulster Director of Rugby David Humphreys commented: "We are delighted to be in a position to finally confirm that Tommy will be playing his rugby with Ulster next season and I'd like to thank the IRFU for their assistance in bringing him home. The speculation around his return over the past number of weeks is testament to the level of regard that the Ulster Rugby public have for him and rightly so. Skillful, physical, and a proven finisher with a knack of being in the right place at the right time, there's no doubt that Tommy has consistently been one of European rugby's best players over the past few seasons and he'll bring a lot of experience and flair to our backline."
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.