Eight months passed between the news that Leinster had signed James Lowe and his debut for the province, but everything the Kiwi wing has said and done since his belated arrival in Dublin suggests he was well worth the wait, writes Brendan O’Brien.
His two Guinness PRO14 tries away to Benetton last weekend only confirmed what anyone who had seen him play for the Chiefs already knew – that this is a player of rare quality – but the 25-year has proven just as big a hit off the field as on it.
“He’s a good bloke, he’s a funny guy,” Jack Conan said yesterday.
Girvan Dempsey, a man who should know a back three talent when he sees it, speaks about a player who bounces into training every morning full of energy.
Lowe’s voice is already a familiar sound, both in the dressing-room and between the white lines.
“He’s brilliant, he’s brought a massive enthusiasm to the squad, his energy,” said scrum-half Luke McGrath. “He’s brought a freshness to the squad, new ideas in the back line, counter-attacking and things like that. We can only improve from it.”
McGrath has noted how, when Lowe catches a high ball, his instinct is to look for space to run it back. Few wings or full-backs think so creatively this side of the equator – or simply aren’t allowed to – and McGrath is certain that the new boy’s approach will make for a good fit with the province.
Leinster’s brains trust would have been fairly sure of that already.
Dempsey and head coach Leo Cullen had seen him playing on separate trips to New Zealand down the years and a long line of Kiwi contacts were approached to appraise a player who has benefited hugely from his time under the wing of Dave Rennie while at the Chiefs.
“You saw what he showed at the weekend, his strength on the ball, his skill level,” said Dempsey, Leinster’s backs coach.
“He’s obviously been coached by Dave Rennie for years. A lot of Dave’s ideas and philosophies have rubbed off on him. He brings that.”
Lowe was actually surprised by how much Leinster knew about him at first contact, but foreign signings of such calibre are a rare enough treat in Ireland so Leinster were never going to take the plunge without the required due diligence.
Just off the back of a Mitre 10 campaign with Tasman, Lowe has been eased into Dublin life by the province who have helped house him and more so the sound of him singing a song in the ‘sheds’ after his first appearance in Italy will have been music to everyone’s ears.
Stay around long enough and Lowe could qualify for Ireland under the residency rulings. Dempsey yesterday confirmed such a scenario is a possibility - which begs the question as to why such a talent earned Maori recognition but no phone call from the All Blacks.
What were the weaknesses holding him back?
Dempsey wasn’t for spilling those beans in a Champions Cup week when their new gem should be part of a squad travelling to England’s south coast for a huge encounter with Premiership champions and current leaders Exeter.
“He is a very accomplished left winger and he’s shown it. Every player has weakness. He knows them and he’s working on them.
“When you go into a new environment, we don’t play the same way as the Chiefs. Our systems are different. Our attack and defence systems are different.
“He has got to adapt to those. It does take time.”
Leinster know too that they have the luxury of turning to others within their ranks to cater to their needs should Lowe need some more time to acclimatise.
They are abundantly well-stocked with fit and able wingers and 15s. Embarrassingly so.
Cullen has nine options for the three available spots. Irish internationals make up half-a-dozen of those and Isa Nacewa is another. It’s no wonder Dempsey could talk of ‘horses for courses’ and rotation as they look to back up their opening two European wins in October.
And the club’s options for the trip across the Irish Sea this weekend look to be all the healthier for the suggestion from Dempsey that Dan Leavy, Robbie Henshaw and James Ryan – all looking to shake minor injuries - were due to train yesterday.
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