Saturday 25 November 2017

How high can Project Lowe fly at Blues?

Leinster's last 'project player' could be their best of this era

James Lowe of Maori All Blacks. Photo: Sportsfile
James Lowe of Maori All Blacks. Photo: Sportsfile

All should have been revealed overnight.

World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot has been the spearhead for extending the residency rule for overseas players to qualify for another country from three to five years.

There was a worldwide review launched last November, canvassing the views of the 126 rugby unions affiliated to the governing body.

The motion was down for decision in Japan early this morning (Irish time) in a vote that could radically transform a trend in the game.

England's Rugby Football Union Chief Executive Ian Ritchie is on record in support of the former Argentinean scrum-half Pichot's motion.

"We commit from a position, as do the French, from a large playing base and a large number of people to select from," stated Ritchie.

Hard line

"Some people will say you can afford to be hard line on this particular issue.

"If you have a small playing base, then I could well understand why somebody would like it to be less than that.

"Our position will be the five years."

Presumably, the three-year commitment cannot be legally challenged until the proposed rule change has been passed.

Any Ireland 'project players' signed before then are in safe territory. The right and wrong of playing for a country to which there is no family or personal connection is one matter.

The responsibility of the smaller nations to keep pace with the modern climate for change is another.

It could just be that Leinster's last 'project player,' James Lowe, turns out to be their best.

"He is one of the best left wingers in the world. He hands-down is," said Isa Nacewa.

The Chief is a 6'2," 100kilos (16 stone) left wing, sometime full-back, has an array of skills to match his physical prowess.

"I've watched him for the last two years, while I was at The Blues before I came back here (to Leinster)," said Nacewa. "He brings in competition and it boosts Leinster. It was a no-brainer in trying to get him here."

Club captain Nacewa has played a central role in Leinster's rise from under-achievers to European powerhouse.

He was a driving force behind the signature of a little-known coach - at least in Ireland - called Joe Schmidt.

He was also involved in the pursuit of one of New Zealand's most natural finishers, The Chiefs leading try-scorer on six this season.

"I had conversations. I don't know James personally. I've watched him very closely.

"But, if his name gets chucked over the table to bring him in, I said, 'yes, 100 per cent'."

The Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac agrees Leinster have signed up real international quality.

"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."

The most exciting aspect of Lowe's decision is that it comes at an age and a stage when the 24 year-old should be coming into his prime.

"When do you make the move if you are young enough, under the current rules, to play three seasons and play international rugby potentially up here?" asked Pivac.

He pointed to the move of Ireland and British & Irish Lion Jared Payne from Super Rugby to international rugby.

"Payne is a classic example, isn't he?

"The 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'."

The Scarlets coach knows all about New Zealand rugby from his time at Auckland and North Harbour.

He is well aware of Lowe and what he will bring to Leinster.

"Oh, he's a very good player. I like him," he said.

"He's a strong runner. He's an all-round footballer, a lot of skill. I think he will do well, unfortunately."

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