Saturday 24 August 2019

There's beauty in winning ugly for Leinster star Lowe

'There is no other winger in the Pro 14 with Lowe’s range of skills.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
'There is no other winger in the Pro 14 with Lowe’s range of skills.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Winning ugly. Those who promote its virtues are usually the same folks who, on different days, can move through the gears with grace. So when James Lowe talks about the need to drop into a lower gear, and grunt, it shows his value.

At one stage in the second half at Celtic Park, when grinding out territory and keeping Glasgow in second place was the name of the game, Leinster found themselves wide on the left with only one side to attack.

Firing the ball long off the ruck to another forward carrier opened the door to risk, and minimising that was important. At which point Officer Lowe presents himself for duty.

So, from a standing start coming back in off the five-metre line he took a short pass from Luke McGrath, and drew another couple of Glasgow players to him as he eked out a couple of metres. More space, more time taken up on the clock, more frustration for the home side who were growing increasingly restless for an entry point back into the game.

There is no other winger in the Pro 14 with Lowe's range of skills. He has the power and strength to run over you in a tight space; run around you; convince you the tackle is complete, only to offload to a teammate; and he can kick the ball accurately over distance. And he has personality.


Here is his description of how Leinster stored away and then unpacked the tutorial on defence handed down by Saracens in Newcastle a few weeks ago.

"We talked about it, but you also have to make sure that you back it up with actions and I felt we did," he says.

"I mean, our defence; the way I describe it is that we're too much Garry Ringrose; we're too pretty. We need to be a bit more Robbie Henshaw because he's not as pretty as Garry, so that's how I word it anyway."

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Henshaw will cope with his rating on the James Lowe beauty pageant. This hasn't been Ringrose's best season since breaking through in 2015 but his partnership with Henshaw, who was terrific in this contest, has the type of balance coaches love.

And they were able to roll it out on the last day, in a venue Lowe felt privileged to be playing in. Another episode on his rugby adventure.

"Cool man - holy," he said of the Celtic Park experience. "Obviously New Zealand sucks at football so I didn't know too much until I got here.

"But yeah, it's cool, to be steeped in such heritage and walk down those tunnels and see names, and to walk out there, it's like a cauldron. It was full of Glasgow supporters and it was very, very loud every time they had the ball and did something good.

"But we were able to back it up with good defence - managed to get a few good turnovers and we kept the pressure on."

For their next trick - working through the opening six rounds of next season's Pro14 without the Ireland contingent - Lowe's leadership skills will be key.

Four years ago, in similar circumstances, it was players like Ringrose, Rhys Ruddock, Dan Leavy and Josh van der Flier who were plugging the gaps and making names for themselves. Stuart Lancaster is looking forward to the next wave, which is already breaking.

"I think this year has actually been a really positive step for Leinster because we've got a lot of the young lads who didn't play today - they will be playing during that World Cup period," he says.

"While the World Cup is on and the likes of Caelan Doris, Max Deegan, Ross Byrne, all these lads - well, hopefully Ross will be in the World Cup squad - they have had fantastic experience this year and will need to step up at the start of next season while the international boys are away."


His role in their progress is hard to overestimate. Lancaster was personally at a low ebb after England's crash in the World Cup, so the shift across the water to a different environment and a raft of good players was as good for him as it was for Leinster.

He added: "Yeah, I was very lucky. The team had a great quality but obviously they had lost the Pro14 final against Connacht in Edinburgh, actually, when I arrived, so we had a lot to improve on.

"But that first year we lost those two semi-finals, against Scarlets in the Pro14 semi-finals and then against Clermont. Then to do the double last year, (and) to win this year is huge but obviously disappointing to lose to Saracens.

"But ultimately overall, it's been a great move for me, personally, to work with such a talented group of players and such a great coaching team and management team, and it's a commutable journey back to Leeds, so I haven't had to move the family, which has been great."

That journey - and the separation involved - may not quite be the mere incidental as presented by Lancaster.

Still, it's something he can work around and put up with. Given the quality of talent at his disposal, it's a price worth paying.

For both parties, it represents very good value for money.

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