Friday 15 February 2019

Lowe in high spirits as he remains keen on green

Kiwi winger returns from a three-week absence and declares his intention to  showcase skills on higher stage

James Lowe during a Leinster Rugby press conference at the RDS Arena yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
James Lowe during a Leinster Rugby press conference at the RDS Arena yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

James Lowe swans into the room with a smile gleaming like the promise of the rainbow.

"Howdy partner?" he huffs giddily, dressed in ill-fitting garb more suitable for a trip to the beach than a half-hour Captain's Run.

He's just happy to be playing again. He's missed three weeks now, two for a ban after upending Andrew Conway in that fraught festive derby and last week against Wasps, omitted for their final Champions Cup game.

"He's picked me this week!" he smiles, as Leo Cullen follows him into the inner RDS sanctum complaining bitterly of the bitterness outside.

"It should be some craic. Hopefully the weather's not too bad. I'm looking forward to it."

He promises to light up a fixture that, regrettably, for the third successive meeting in this competition, clashes with an international window and thus robs it of the stardust it surely deserves.

After spending much of this year kicking his heels, he now can't wait to click his jet wheels after his lay-off.

"It's the nature of the beast. I had a good time. I still trained every single day and got flogged when the guys were playing. So it was not quite an extended holiday. I'm just glad to be out there, it'll be good to put a jersey on and run around the RDS."

Though so fleet of foot, the Kiwi often speaks of the need to keep his feet on the ground; unfortunately, this is what did for him in Thomond when his challenge on Conway made so many in Thomond - and Lowe himself - see red.

"It is what it is," he demurs.

"It's part of the game. I've gone up for the ball a thousand times and this was the one I got wrong. There was no malice or intent. The boys saw how much I was hurt in the changing room afterwards.

"It had a huge impact on the game. It's water under the bridge now, once I don't do it again tomorrow night."

He is suitably chastened; so too by his exclusion last weekend as Cullen stuck with his pre-prepared European plan.

One of rugby's many anomalies allows for players to transfer national loyalty - as Lowe soon intends to do - yet forbids some at club level to play for their clubs due to an arcane regulation.

Hence, Scott Fardy and Jamison-Gibson Park edged him from that potential selection dilemma and, with all three available during the Six Nations the quandary will continue; Fardy takes a well-earned breather this week.

As for Ireland, Lowe slipped under the radar before the eligibility conditions were tightened; his 2020 vision in green remains keen.

"We'll see how we go," Lowe says breezily.

Contract

"There's contract negotiation to go before that. So I don't know. What do you guys think?

"Ah, it's an exciting prospect. It's about 18 months out. One of the other Kiwis (Gibson-Park) on our roster is a little bit closer than that. So it'll be interesting to see what happens there.

"I've always wanted to test myself on the higher stages so if the opportunity does come about, yeah, we'll see how we go."

With Jack McGrath and Rob Kearney grounded from Ireland's training stint in Portugal, they have been afforded the opportunity to test their fitness ahead of international duty with a spin in Leinster colours tonight, allowing Cullen to sprinkle a greenhorn side with much-needed experience.

Kearney will captain the side from full-back after overcoming a leg issue which sidelined him for the Champions Cup wins over Toulouse and Wasps, while loosehead McGrath starts his second successive game following hip surgery.

"I've no restrictions on Rob Kearney or Jack McGrath this week in terms of minutes," said Cullen.

"Jack got 45 minutes last week and coming back from injury, especially for a tight-five forward, getting time on the field is important.

"Rob has been unlucky since missing out on a couple of weeks and it is a good chance to showcase his skills with some big games coming up. He has come through training well."

There was less promising news for Dan Leavy, however, as his window of opportunity closed this week after failing to pass a fitness test on his troublesome calf.

"Dan Leavy's recovery is a little bit slower than anticipated with his calf. He didn't hit his markers and it is tricky now with a couple of weeks off."

Leinster name seven academy players in the squad and another potential debutant from the well-oiled production line in the form of Jack Dunne.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster - R Kearney (capt); B Daly, R O'Loughlin, C O'Brien, J Lowe; C Frawley, H O'Sullivan; J McGrath, J Tracy, M Bent; R Molony, M Kearney; M Deegan, S Penny, C Doris. Reps: B Byrne, E Byrne, V Abdaladze, J Dunne, O Dowling, J Gibson-Park, N Reid, J O'Brien.

Scarlets - J McNicholl; I Nicholas, K Fonotia, S Hughes (capt), P Asquith; D Jones, K Hardy; P Price, M Jones, W Kruger; J Ball, D Bulbring; T Price, D Davies, J Macleod. Reps: D Hughes, D Evans, S Gardiner, J Helps, E Kennedy, J Evans, M Williams, T Prydie.

Ref - Marius Mitrea (FIR).

Leinster v Scarlets,

Live, RDS, 7.35, eir Sport & TG4

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