Saturday 24 February 2018

A little-known Champions Cup rule explains why Leinster aren't playing their newest star this weekend

2 December 2017; James Lowe of Leinster ahead of the Guinness PRO14 Round 10 match between Benetton and Leinster at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo in Treviso, Italy. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
2 December 2017; James Lowe of Leinster ahead of the Guinness PRO14 Round 10 match between Benetton and Leinster at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo in Treviso, Italy. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Many Leinster fans were probably surprised - and a little disappointed - to see the news that the province have opted against registering import James Lowe for this weekend's Champions Cup clash away to Exeter.

Lowe - who lit up Super Rugby this year with a series of scintillating displays - only arrived in Ireland in November after the conclusion of the ITM Cup in New Zealand, making his debut for Leinster in the PRO 14 away to Treviso last Saturday.

However, after a two-try Man of the Match outing, there was plenty of speculation that Lowe might be included in the Leinster squad that travels to Exeter for the first of back-to-back European fixtures this Sunday.

Leinster are able to register three additional players to play in Europe between now and the end of the pool stage - although one must be a front row - so Leo Cullen could have handed Lowe his European bow this weekend.

However, a little-known Champions Cup rule - 3.7 to be precise - states that teams can only have a maximum of two 'non-Europeans' in their squad.

A number of nations - including South Africa and the Pacific Island countries - are exempt from this rule under the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific group of States.

Australia and New Zealand aren't covered so Leinster were basically forced to choose two of scrum-half Jamison Gibson Park, second row Scott Fardy and James Lowe.

Former Australian international Fardy has been one of Leinster's top performers this season and given the injuries to Ross Molony and James Ryan, his presence is most definitely required at lock.

Likewise, Leinster don't have huge depth at scrum-half. Were Gibson-Park to be dropped this week, the relatively untested Nick McCarthy would be next in line.

And while Lowe is an undoubted star, Leinster have a stocked back three so Leo Cullen has opted to keep his powder dry this week and maintain the status quo. Another factor to consider is that Lowe has just finished a long southern hemisphere season and a gradual integration into the team is probably best to ensure he is at his peak come the knockout stages.

However, Lowe was brought over with these big European occasions in mind so it will be interesting to see how Leinster balance their squad over the course of their Champions Cup campaign, and whether Fardy or Gibson-Park are rotated out of the 23 at some stage to accommodate the flying wing.

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