James Lowe’s blood ties to the Maori All Blacks precluded him from making friends with future Leinster team-mate Johnny Sexton when the British and Irish Lions fly-half faced off against him this morning.
Lowe, 24, will join the Irish province from the Chiefs at the end of the Super Rugby season this summer but not before he has represented the Maori against the out-half who will be responsible for feeding his appetite for try-scoring.
Normally a wing, he will start at full-back against the Lions, as regular Chiefs full-back Damian McKenzie takes the helm at out-half and Lowe is expecting plenty of work under the high ball from Sexton. “Oh, he can kick the ball, can’t he?” the lively Lowe said of the Ireland star.
“At full-back a big thing you do assess is their kickers. Fortunately, the Lions only have right-footed kickers, which makes it a little easier as a full-back, but you’ve still got a lot of ground to cover. Damo (McKenzie) is the one who does all the running at the Chiefs. I just hang out the sides and look after his flanks, but now I’ve got to be the one in the middle running around.
“I watched (Sexton) in the first two games. He’s a good organiser. He knows when to give it to the backs, when to keep it in the forwards, when the forwards are short on numbers, he’ll use a ‘12’ to come in and carry it up.
“On Saturday I’m trying to run over him and next year I’ll be trying to look after him. That’s one way of looking at it.” Lowe said he has had no second thoughts about his decision to give up on his All Blacks dream and leave for pastures new at a relatively early age for Kiwi players.
“I’ve got no regrets leaving New Zealand. I’ve given it my all for three years. This is the right time for me to leave even though I’m still young. You’ve got to remember these All Blacks are probably going to go down as the best that have ever worn these jerseys before. It’s a shame I didn’t get to the top but it’s a great chance that’s come up and there’s still time.”
Lowe could have had his pick of European clubs but the prospect of joining Leinster is one he feels fits his rugby outlook, particularly after taking soundings from former Maori team-mates already plying their trade at the RDS.
“It’s an expansive brand of rugby I’m looking forward to. When you’re looking at signing with another club you do your homework, and there were two people at Leinster I spoke to. Jamison Gibson-Park and Hayden Triggs, I talked to both of them, they both spoke very highly of the club. It’s good to get an opinion from someone who has your best interests at heart as well. They are friends off the field. If you asked any Irishman they’d say it’s 30 degrees every day and all that. Hayden’s been around the block and he said Leinster gave him a great opportunity and he talked about what they had done for him. And that made the decision easier.”
Also waiting to greet Lowe in Dublin is Isa Nacewa, one of the wing’s early rugby heroes.
“I’m excited to play with Isa, that’s for sure. When I was growing up he was the man, back in the day, and apparently, he still is! I mean if I’m 35 and running around and looking that good, I’ve taken something I shouldn’t have,” he said with a chuckle.
“It’s exciting times. It’s not like I chose them by any means, but I wanted to go to an environment in which I’d still be able to challenge myself. I feel like I’ve a lot more to give in this game, and a club that’s regarded as a strong club in Europe, very professional, a lot of Irish internationals, I feel like that’s a place where I can challenge myself, and they’ll challenge me.”
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