Wayne Pivac knows a thing or two about Kiwi rugby players and the Scarlets coach is certain that Leinster’s capture of James Lowe is a win-win scenario for both player and club.
The 24-year old will link up with the Irish province after his Super Rugby campaign ends and the Maori All Blacks wing was highlighted again last weekend when he put in a superb display for the Chiefs, scoring one of their six tries in a 46-17 defeat of the Queensland Reds.
Pivac, a fellow New Zealander with considerable coaching experience at home and abroad, has seen Johnny McPhillips impress for his Scarlets side since the switch from the Crusaders last summer.
Pivac is certain Lowe has the all-round footballing skills to do likewise. “Johnny McNicholl is probably a similar sort of player (to Lowe),” he said.
“He has done very well in New Zealand rugby and, for whatever reason, he probably thinks he’s not going to be an All Black. There are a lot of good players ahead of him. When do you make the move?
“If you are young enough, under current rules, to play three seasons and international rugby potentially up here... (Jared) Payne is a classic example, isn’t he?
"New Zealanders see guys like that playing international rugby and think, ‘Well, if I can’t be an All Black, the next best thing is playing for another nation’.”
Lowe has batted away that eligibility question so far and pointed out, quite reasonably, that he has yet to play for Leinster, let alone Ireland. But Isa Nacewa got a close-up of his potential when he spent a few seasons as skills coach with the Blues back home.
“He is one of the best left wingers in the world,” said Leinster’s captain.
“He hands down is. It was a no-brainer in trying to get him here… His try-scoring record in Super Rugby alone is right up there. He just hasn’t been capped by the All Blacks yet. He is a phenomenal player.”
With Wallaby forward Scott Fardy also due in Dublin next season, Leinster look like being a tougher proposition down the road, but Pivac’s Scarlets face a daunting enough job as is in overcoming Leo Cullen’s men in the first Guinness PRO12 semi-final, at the RDS, on Friday week.
“It is the different variety of rugby they can play,” said club captain Ken Owens.
“They have a very strong pack and an outstanding back line. Johnny Sexton controls the game magnificently, you have Garry Ringrose, Joey Carbery stepping in.
“Five Lions as well and experienced internationals right across the board. They can squeeze you by playing the corners or play a wide, expansive game. We need to turn up, put a performance in, perhaps stop Leinster’s momentum and hopefully nick a result.”
Owens will likely be one of three Scarlets players on view who are due to join Leinster’s five Lions in New Zealand just a matter of weeks after their league semi-final.
The hooker accepts that it makes for an odd backdrop as foe becomes friend.
“It will be strange,” said the man who is the favourite to wear the number two jersey for the first test against New Zealand in Auckland.
“It is one thing I am looking forward to. You play against these guys and socialise with them briefly after the game.
“I am looking forward to meeting new people. learning off them and enjoying their company, learning from players and obviously different coaches. That is the beauty of the Lions; how four nations come together for one common goal.”
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