Sunday 21 October 2018

Question of how high Lowe can go

Cullen must decide whether to be bold

A happy-looking James Lowe during Leinster training. Pic: Sportsfile
A happy-looking James Lowe during Leinster training. Pic: Sportsfile

How high can James Lowe go?

That is the question on everyone's lips in reaction to his Leinster debut.

The New Zealander, not good enough to be made an All Black, looks like a sure-fire Ireland international of the future.

And that is exactly why he was brought here on a three-year deal.

This is not a trite claim made on the evidence of his first PRO14 League hit out on a heavy pitch in Italy.

It is based on the body of work amassed through four years of Super Rugby with the Chiefs. His stunning strike rate of 25 tries from 52 appearances stands comparison with anyone in his homeland.

The snippets from Treviso revealed a natural poacher's instinct for his subtle line through the inside shoulder of wing Tommaso Benvenuti for his first try and the hitch-kick triggering his acceleration outside Marty Banks for the second.


It could even have been a hat-trick if scrum-half Luke McGrath had not been so keen to notch one for his collection.

That was born out of Jordan Larmour's magical offload and Lowe's appreciation for what was needed to put McGrath away.

As the scrum-half closed in on try-time, he felt a cramp in his hamstring, his speed ebb away and a voice in his ear.

All the while, the left wing had maintained his interest in the play and was eager for a second touch.

"I'm here, I'm here, I heard in my ear as he was, probably, walking beside me," laughed McGrath. It was Lowe at cruising speed looking for a return pass to take what would have been his second try in the 64th minute.

No need to worry, Noel Reid's wide ball provided enough space for that four minutes later.

The message from that one-on-one was that this man doesn't need to be put into space.

He can make defenders miss from a standing start.

What has McGrath made of Leinster's latest signing in the short tmie he has known him?

"He never stops talking on the pitch," said the scrum-half.

"He's brilliant. He's brought a massive enthusiasm to the squad.

"He loves playing the game. He's going to give it his all, the whole time."

The post-match song, a staple part of any debut diet, was entered into with typical gusto alongside partner-in-crime Vakh Abdaladze.

Apparently, the choice of weapon was a rap to rattle all eardrums.

Apparently, Lowe can rap as well off the field as he can on it.

Now, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have a decision to come to.

Leinster will make their way to the English champions Exeter for Sunday.

Never mind the exploits from last season, these Chiefs are in flying form right now.

They lead the Premiership with eight wins from ten rounds, winning five-in-a-row and all five at home.

Should Lowe be thrown straight into the cauldron of Sandy Park with just a few weeks of acclimatising to Leinster's ways and means?

"It's a selection headache for once," remarked backs coach Girvan Dempsey.

"For a while there, sessions-wise, we didn't have two full backlines because we'd so many injuries in the backs.

"Leo was going: 'They're a protected species, relax, we can't work them too hard because we're breaking down.'

"Thankfully, now the timing has come around at the right time. We've got near a full-deck. It's brilliant."

Leinster could have captain Isa Nacewa, Dave Kearney, Adam Byrne, Rory O'Loughlin, Larmour and Fergus McFadden vying for two shirts.

The reviews of Lowe the man are even more taking then the player.

"He's full of energy, absolutely full of energy," said Dempsey.

"He just bounces into the place in the morning and just loves the game.

"He loves training. He's vocal in meetings. He's happy to share and he's settled in really well."

This week can go one of two ways for Lowe.

Leinster can look to his game-breaking skills to open up what should be a gripping game.

Or, the coaches can take a more conservative view by going with someone with a better understanding of what Exeter will bring.

For pure rugby brilliance, there is nowhere you would go without Lowe.

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