'Free spirited' Kiwi the ace in Irish deck
REACTION: James Lowe once described the thought of ending up playing for Ireland as a “weird prospect”.
However, the highly-rated New Zealand-born wing looks set to do so during the year-end Nations Cup.
The 28-year-old – a “free spirit” according to Ireland head coach Andy Farrell – has been named in the squad for the forthcoming tournament.
He qualifies to do so due to the three year residency rule, having joined Leinster in 2017, encouraged to settle in Ireland after talking to his close friend Jamison Gibson-Park.
There is a good chance the two Kiwis will line up in the starting XV during the year-end Nations Cup, with Leinster scrumhalf Gibson-Park having won his first cap against Italy a fortnight ago.
Even so Lowe, who was bed-ridden with rheumatoid arthritis when he was a youngster and still receives weekly injections and painkillers for it, is no great fan of the rule that permits him to play for Ireland.
“If I look at it, it’s a stupid rule, isn’t it? I could dig myself a big hole here, obviously,” he told website the42.ie last year.
“It’s weird that I could be Irish, isn’t it? Like, it is weird.”
Whatever its merits or lack of – the residency rule is now changed to five years – his eligibility is a boon for the Irish.
His performances for The Chiefs earned him a call-up to the All Blacks squad for a Test with Samoa only for injury to rule him out.
He did, however, turn out for the All Black Maoris against the British & Irish Lions in 2017.
While the All Black shirt proper evaded him, a green one is looming after a succession of sparkling displays for Leinster that has seen him part of a squad that won the 2018 European Champions Cup and Pro 14 title double in his debut season.
His dedication to his adopted country is not in doubt, according to his Leinster team-mate and Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton.
“If he gets the chance to put on the green jersey I know it will mean a lot to him,” said Sexton on Thursday.
“It’s not something he will take lightly. He will be very proud, from speaking to him.
“I don’t think he came over here, I might be wrong, I don’t think he came over here with the sole purpose of trying something new.
“He seemed to fall in love with the place.”
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Ireland are blessed with several exciting prospects of already proven wings but it may be no accident one of them, Jacob Stockdale, has seized the chance to try his luck at full-back just as Lowe became eligible.
Sexton says Lowe possesses that special stardust which sets him apart from his rivals and should find the step up to Test rugby not too challenging.
“He’s got outstanding prospects to be incredible at this level,” said Sexton.
“He’s been a huge part of our success over the last three years.
“He’s got an X-factor, a bit of special quality about him.”
Farrell thinks Lowe will add an extra zest to the Irish attack.
“Potentially, we think he can be excellent,” said Farrell.
“His strengths are that he doesn’t like getting tackled too much, doesn’t die with the ball either, he’s always going looking for work to make things happen.
“That’s what all the best wingers do – they try to make things happen.”
Farrell says they will not try to suppress his individual skills.
“He’s a free spirit, he’s a happy, go-lucky lad,” said Farrell.
“He enjoys himself on the training field, not too much in the classroom, meetings, etc.
“Not too much there because he just wants to get out and run around with the ball.
“He’s a likeable sort, let’s put it that way.”