James Lowe becoming impossible to leave out for Leinster
As responses to what must be a hugely frustrating issue go, James Lowe’s could hardly be accused of being anything other than diplomatic.
“Aw, it sucks,” the Leinster winger said on last week’s episode of The Left Wing podcast.
He was of course talking about the rather obscure ‘foreign’ player rule that everyone is well aware of at this stage.
Leinster are in such a good place right now that from the outside looking in at least, one of the biggest challenges they face is selecting the right combinations – be that in terms of picking a back-row or more importantly in Lowe’s case, choosing two of their three antipodean players in a match-day squad.
With Jamison-Gibson Park becoming Irish-qualified in the coming summer (Lowe must wait until 2020), the rule will be less of a hot topic next season.
But that won’t come as much consolation to a player who just wants to play the game he so clearly loves, especially the big occasions, which Lowe missed out on so often last season.
The problem he faces is that Scott Fardy has been a colossus since joining Leinster, while Gibson-Park plays in a specialist position and is seen as an important option to have on the bench.
Lowe, however, has been in such devastating form that he is now impossible to leave out of the starting XV, and if he is, it must be considered a calculated risk.
The 26-year-old’s brace against Munster saw him take his try tally to 14 in 17 games as he continues to cause problems for every defence he plays against.
Outside of his undoubted try-scoring ability, Lowe has been working hard on the more subtle nuances of his game, particularly his defence and his backs coach Felipe Contepomi believes he has a bit to go yet before being the finished product.
“James had a good game (in the win over Munster), especially in the way he finished some moves and he does have to work on some technical stuff but he a very good at finishing,” the Argentinian legend said.
“He’s very good, definitely. He’s got something that you find somewhere else in the world, like New Zealand – he knows how to finish and as a winger that’s your top priority.
“He’s good but he needs to work on other things, he is working hard trying to get better in other aspects.”
Gibson-Park’s ankle injury may well ease the selection headache for Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster for tomorrow night’s visit of Wasps, but going forward, they know it will continue to be a regular issue if the Kiwi scrum-half, Lowe and Fardy are all fit.
As headaches go, however, it’s certainly not a bad one to have.
“Sometimes we misunderstand what is structure and systems,” Contepomi continued.
“They (game breakers) allow you de-structure those systems. If you have a structure, it’s there to be broken by someone with brilliance like (Lowe). But I think you have to have a structure or system to know where to go but that gives you a freedom to follow your instinct and play your natural game.”
It’s clear that Contepomi wants to keep Lowe on his toes but the insatiable hunger to work hard for the team suggests that won’t be much of an issue for the former Chiefs man.
That attitude is infectious and if you speak to any of the Leinster players, they will tell you the same. Lowe’s ex-team-mates are even praising his impact on the club.
“He showed some flair over the last year but it would have been a really long season for him,” Jamie Heaslip said on this week’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast.
“But now he’s coming in fresh. They gave him a lot of time off, he got a good pre-season under his belt.
“All he needs is a metre of space and he is going to try to run over you but he also has the skill to get around you or he can get the offload in as well.
“It’s a bit of a perfect storm as well because Stuart (Lancaster) has more time with the team now in terms of the way he wants to play a very free-flowing, kind of comfortable-in-chaos manner, encouraging the lads to throw the ball about – encouraging players like Lowey to offload when they think they can to enjoy the game.
“And I think that’s what you are seeing – someone like Lowey will thrive in that environment.”
Ensuring that Lowe is allowed to continue to do so could well prove crucial as Leinster begin the defence of their Champions Cup title.