Friday 23 August 2019

Cian Tracey: 'Charismatic Lowe reminds us that sport should be fun'

James Lowe during Leinster Rugby squad training. Photo: Sportsfile
James Lowe during Leinster Rugby squad training. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

After a difficult few weeks for rugby and its image, the meeting of Europe's two best teams in an epic contest cannot come soon enough.

In the red-and-black corner will be one of the main villains as Billy Vunipola looks to inspire Saracens, while in the blue corner, James Lowe is essentially the antithesis to the England No 8.

With a constant smile on his face, Lowe posses that rare quality of being able to set pulses racing as quickly as he can spread panic in opposition defences.

His infectious personality on the pitch is reflected in how he conducts himself whenever he has spoken publicly.

A breath of fresh air, Lowe is like a giddy young child who recognises the privileged position he is in and he intends to make the most of it.

Injury to Jamison Gibson-Park has made Leo Cullen's life easier in terms of team selection for Saturday's showdown, but even if the scrum-half had been fit, it is difficult to imagine his fellow Kiwi being left out at the expense of him.

That is exactly what happened last season however, and indeed for Leinster's recent quarter-final win over Ulster, as Cullen opted for Gibson-Park and the undroppable Scott Fardy as his two 'non-Europeans' in the match-day squad.

Saracens won't need to be reminded of Lowe's quality because he caused them all sorts of problems when Leinster dumped the holders out in last year's quarter-final.

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Pace, power, footwork, and a torpedo of a left boot, the 26-year-old is a joy to watch in full flight.

His red card in Thomond Park over Christmas remains the only real blemish of his time in Ireland, which you get the feeling is only just getting going.

Lowe is a hugely popular figure in the Leinster dressing-room and the manner in which he reacted to the disappointment of being left out for last year's European semi-final and final saw him win even more respect from his team-mates and coaches.

His try in the semi-final win over Toulouse last month was a snapshot of what Leinster are all about, with 13 of the 15 players touching the ball before Lowe finished emphatically in the corner in a manner that few Irish wingers would have been able to manage.

"It's great to have him back and firing on all cylinders," Robbie Henshaw said of Lowe.

"He's a finisher. He just knows where the line is and he's unbelievably strong in contact, so if you can get him that ball and he has a one-on-one he's more than likely going to win it."

When Lowe arrived from New Zealand two years ago, there were some question marks over his defence, yet the work that he has done with Stuart Lancaster around that area of his game has been obvious.

Saracens targeted Munster's back-three all day and while Rob Kearney has a safer pair of hands than Mike Haley, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Owen Farrell and Ben Spencer aerially bombard Lowe and Jordan Larmour's wings.

Lowe's 10 tries this season have already equalled his tally for last season and with at least two, possibly three, games left, you wouldn't bet against him adding to that haul.

Despite having played for the Maori All Blacks, Lowe can still become eligible to play for Ireland in November 2020.

Given the kind of form he has shown since he landed on these shores, he looks almost certain to wear the green jersey if that is the path he chooses to go down. For now, it is the Leinster supporters who get to enjoy the magic that Lowe regularly conjures up.

For some players, getting the chance to play at an iconic stadium such as St James' Park won't mean as much as it will to others, but in Lowe's case he is an avid Manchester City supporter and he will relish the chance to thrive on the big stage that he was born to perform on.

We haven't come across too many players who are cut from the same cloth as Lowe and for that alone, he should be recognised for what he is bringing to rugby in this country.

After all, sport is supposed to be fun and amidst the sourness of recent weeks, Lowe is a constant reminder that there is a giddy child inside all of us.

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