New three-year Leinster deal sets scene for James Lowe's Ireland bow

James Lowe's bounce in person is infectious and, whatever about his inner thoughts when losing out on a place in the squad at the back end of Leinster's European-winning campaign two seasons ago due to a restriction on Antipodean players, his public utterances were pitch-perfect. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
James Lowe's bounce in person is infectious and, whatever about his inner thoughts when losing out on a place in the squad at the back end of Leinster's European-winning campaign two seasons ago due to a restriction on Antipodean players, his public utterances were pitch-perfect. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

James Lowe once paid homage to Isa Nacewa by describing him as a god among mortals.

This was at the fag end of Nacewa's second stint at Leinster when the veteran was all but playing on one leg and yet still driving the team, the club, and their very culture forward. For Lowe, only six months in the door at that point, the older man was a beacon that lit his path.

Nacewa, of course, never got to play in green. Accepted as the best pound-for-pound import Irish rugby has ever known, his smarts and his skills would have been a revelation on a global stage, and especially so under Joe Schmidt with whom he enjoyed such a symbiotic relationship, but it wasn't to be. Never could be.

It was a three-minute cameo appearance for Fiji at the end of a 2003 World Cup game against Scotland that had blocked his path to the All Blacks in the first place and it was that sliding doors moment which paved the way for Nacewa to try his luck in the north. Lowe has no such impediment to any international ambitions in the here and now.

Currently at home in New Zealand for personal reasons, Lowe tweeted his delight on Monday morning at signing a new deal with Leinster that will keep him in Dublin for another three years and by which point he will be touching 31.

His peak years should be kicking in right about now.

Bad news for the other provinces and any other opponents in the PRO14 and Champions Cup but great news in a wider Irish perspective given he also qualifies for Ireland under the old three-year residency rule as of this November.

Lowe is no facsimile of Nacewa who could and did play in virtually every position across Leinster's backline at some point. He is instead a specialist who electrifies the touchlines and does things in possession of the ball that few others in Irish rugby can or have before.

“He is very, very good,” said Leo Cullen after Lowe's third game for the province in January of 2018. “He is very strong in contact and lots of energy as well. He just has that little bit of an X-factor where he is able to keep that ball alive in contact very well. He creates opportunities off of the back of that.” 

“He is very, very good,” said Leo Cullen after Lowe's third game for the province in January of 2018. Photo by INPHO/Morgan Treacy
“He is very, very good,” said Leo Cullen after Lowe's third game for the province in January of 2018. Photo by INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Lowe had nine tries in his first dozen games and, if that run rate has slowed since, a total of 28 in 43 appearances remains a breathtakingly high number. His pending availability adds massively to the armoury that Andy Farrell can call upon when test rugby comes back online.

There were some struggles with his defensive understanding of the Leinster system after he arrived but those kinks have been ironed out and, anyway, this is a player whose positives should always outweigh any negatives, whether perceived or otherwise.

There is a penchant for the unexpected with Lowe that will be intriguing to watch on the more rigid and straitened international stage but he has the talent and the attitude to adapt and the personality to make himself as popular in camp as on the field.

“He's an extremely likeable character,” said former Connacht coach Kevin Keane who has known him since Lowe was a child.

His bounce in person is infectious and, whatever about his inner thoughts when losing out on a place in the squad at the back end of Leinster's European-winning campaign two seasons ago due to a restriction on Antipodean players, his public utterances were pitch-perfect.

“They won a European Cup without me and I’m bloody stoked for a day,” he said on missing out when Leinster beat Racing 92 in the final in 2018. “Doesn’t bother me, I had a heck of a day in Bilbao, man. I wish ... they should have given me a camera for that. It was the best day of my life.” 

He is, in so many ways, a breath of fresh air.

Lowe's thoughts on actually playing rugby for Ireland have never been anything less than brutally honest. He has admitted that the ruling allowing him this very opportunity is “stupid” and agreed with the move made by World Rugby to extend the residency term to five.

When New Zealand came to Dublin back in 2018, Lowe spoke to the press about how his parents were due over and that they would attend the game at the Aviva Stadium in their All Black gear while he himself would be raiding the closet for some neutral clobber.

“I’m very, very neutral, at the moment,” he said at the time. “I don’t know who I will support.” 

Those days are all but over now and it is important to state that he has declared his intention to give his all if and when selected for his adopted country. That honesty off the pitch, allied to his effectiveness on it, make for a thrilling prospect in the months to come.

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