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'If I don't have their name or number in my phone, then it doesn't really bother me'

James Lowe on whether or not the Lions tour was actually ‘boring’, online criticism and the work he has put into his defence, and his first season with Ireland.

James Lowe has teamed up with Rugby Players Ireland, Zurich and the Z Zurich Foundation to invite post-primary schools to take part in the 2021/2022 Tackle Your Feelings Schools mental wellbeing program.
James Lowe has teamed up with Rugby Players Ireland, Zurich and the Z Zurich Foundation to invite post-primary schools to take part in the 2021/2022 Tackle Your Feelings Schools mental wellbeing program.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Updated Aug 25th 2021, 5:00 PM

BECAUSE HE’S IN the process of moving home, James Lowe pops up on Zoom from a neighbour’s house — where there is WiFi — refreshed from a summer spent off the radar at home while several Leinster and Ireland team-mates continued their seasons under the spotlight in South Africa.

The New Zealand-born wing didn’t manage to get ‘home-home’ during his time off. He and his girlfriend instead took in the sights of County Kerry — specifically Tralee, Dingle and Killarney. They enjoyed Killarney so much, they returned for a second trip a couple of weeks ago. “It’s a beautiful part of the world,” Lowe says.

“I’ve had an awesome downtime, for sure. Even just watching the boys, they did their families and friends so proud how they performed on that Lions Tour. I know the results didn’t go the way that they were hoping for but all of them stood up when needed on the biggest Test stage, you know?

“It was awesome to watch them, happily in the comfort of my own home, having a beer,” he smiles.

Lowe kept in touch with Leinster’s tourists all summer: “They’re still my friends, we still have shared interests outside of rugby. We’re always abusing each other for the sake of abusing each other as well so if anyone does anything stupid, trust me, that’ll go through a few WhatsApp groups.”

But despite his personally being, in many ways, the antithesis of the style of rugby played over three weeks at Cape Town Stadium, he wasn’t for lamenting either side’s tactical conservatism which led to such widespread criticism of the tour overall. Conservatism is, after all, something to which Lowe has had to acclimatise while playing in Ireland, if not to anywhere near the same extent.

james-lowe For more information on Tackle Your Feelings, follow the Instagram account @tyf or visit the website www.tackleyourfeelings.com. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It’s just a big game of chess in a lot of ways, isn’t it? Like, I hate chasing box-kicks but it’s me job,” he laughs.

“At the end of the day, if you strip it all back, I think South Africa won a lot more of the basic things that you need to win a game of rugby. They didn’t win it by a large amount: I’m talking your work in the contact, work in the air, set piece. That’s where South Africa won more of those battles.

“There were a few scrums late in that [third] Test, there were a few lineouts late in the first half… What was it, 38 minutes into the game, 10-6, the Lions had a lineout on the five-metre; Ken Owens’ throw wasn’t high enough, Eben Etsebeth gets a hand in, all of a sudden they (South Africa) clear their lines. If they (the Lions) score there and get the conversion, they go in 10, 12 points up. Those are the fine margins.

“You can say it’s boring but…they (South Africa) won, you know? Mate, you can’t tell me Cheslin’s try wasn’t entertaining enough? There’s just not as many moments in those very, very tight games.”

Lowe learned as much during a season in which he made his own Test debut for Ireland, earning six caps in total across November 2020 and the Six Nations just gone and scoring his maiden international try in the final minute of his debut last year. He later missed Ireland’s summer internationals after tearing a tendon in his hamstring during Leinster’s Champions Cup exit to La Rochelle, an injury from which he first “naively” tried to rush back but one from which he has since fully recovered.

That was the final trough in a season equally containing several peaks, and Lowe’s experience with Ireland so far has suitably been a mixed bag both from a personal and team standpoint.

“I was absolutely stoked to make my international debut for Ireland,” he says. “It’s something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. My first Six Nations, I was happy with how I performed in that the things that I’m good at, I was really good at when I needed to be.

You know, like, my defence was the thing that let me down and hence why I got dropped for the last Test [v England]. I’ve been working ridiculously hard to improve that, to understand it better, to make quicker decisions; to make quicker, better decisions under pressure.

james-lowe-dejected-after-the-game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Lowe labels suggestions that his background in Super Rugby inhibits his defensive reliability as “a myth”, just as he does the lazy notion that Super Rugby franchises ostensibly don’t bother with defence in the first place.

Like, Rob Kearney actually came back from Australia and he was like, ‘Look: they play on dry tracks with a dry ball every single day. So, they all want to run with the ball.’ So, you can shape it any way you want. You also defend differently in New Zealand. It’s just a different style of game. I was a product of my own environment and coming over here and trying to learn a different…not a different defensive system, but learn different mechanics of how to work inside a different framework was the big thing.

“I actually think I’ve figured it out, now, what needs to be done, and I’m really looking forward to the games around the corner to be able to showcase that.”

As for whether external criticism of his performance — be it from traditional media or through social media — ever bothers him, Lowe says: “Not anymore.

There’s only a certain amount of people who can really rattle me and if I don’t have their name or number in my phone, then it doesn’t really bother me.

“I wasn’t always like this,” he adds. “When I was a young professional coming in… Mate, it didn’t matter who you were: if you’d said anything about me in any paper or on any social media, I was looking for it.

Now, I’ve got a strong understanding of: I don’t care. It took me a lot of time to work at that, to get to the stage I’m at now. It was an evolutionary process of talking to different people who I trusted. I find that if you’re a good person, your opinion will matter to me. There are some pundits who…I wouldn’t even know anything about them, but they’re going to talk because that’s their job. I’m not going to read anything into it.

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billy-burns-consoled-by-james-lowe-at-the-final-whistle Lowe consoles Billy Burns after a late error during Ireland's defeat to Wales in the Six Nations. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Speaking in his role as ambassador for the Tackle Your Feelings Schools Mental Wellbeing Programme, run in conjunction with Rugby Players Ireland and Zurich, Lowe elaborates on how he has been able to teach himself to simply not care about the opinions of people outside his immediate circle. Key to the process, he says, is that he has learned how to speak openly to people within that circle.

“I think it’s about taking a step, first, to identify what’s really getting you down: being able to put an emotion to how you’re feeling; like, being able to label it by saying, ‘Oh, it’s because of ‘X’, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ that I’m feeling this way,’ and being able to combat it like that.

I’ve always been a very good communicator — like, I could chinwag for days. But I never could communicate my feelings to people who I really cared about. And it’s through seeing people and talking, and letting them understand, and building that serious trusting relationship, you can. It’s a lot easier for me, now, to literally say how I feel.

“And I know not everyone sees things in the light that I see things in — by any means,” he adds.

But I find we escalate a lot of things in our own head. Like, even I do, man. When I’m stressed — I’m currently moving house and I’m waiting for phonecalls from people, and in my head I’m building it up like, ‘Ah, no, that’s going to delay this, that’s going to mean I have to make a phonecall to him, and that’s gonna make his day worse…’ A lot of it is in your head and as long as you front-foot things and don’t let things bottle up all the time, it goes a long way.

james-lowe-celebrates-after-the-game-with-the-guinness-pro14-and-the-trophy-stand Lowe celebrates Leinster's Pro14 victory. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Over the next three months, Lowe intends to put his best foot forward for Leinster, his focus on an Ireland recall sharpened ever since it was confirmed last month that Andy Farrell’s men will face the All Blacks in Dublin in November.

He says he views that Test against his native land as being “the top of the mountain”, before which he will need to reach base camp and other checkpoints if he is to force his way back onto Ireland’s left wing.

“I’m seriously excited,” he says. “It’s on the calendar but there’s a lot of things that need to be done before November, as well. I know there’s still a lot of things I need to achieve to make sure that when they select that Irish team for the November Test series, that I’m the number 11 that they want to pick.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity of potentially touring New Zealand in 11 months’ time, as well,” he adds, eyeing up an even steeper future climb. “I haven’t been home in 13, 14 months now.

“Mate, if I could go home and do the one thing I’m good at, as well, while I’m home…” Lowe smiles, trailing off.

“Like I said, there’s a lot of roadblocks before then.”

The Tackle Your Feelings Schools Programme is a classroom-based, teacher-led, life skills development programme which enables students to build healthy habits and personal coping strategies as well as kindness and understanding when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.
For more information on Tackle Your Feelings follow the Instagram account @tyf or visit the website www.tackleyourfeelings.com

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