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'He apologised. He said he was caught in the moment and didn’t mean it'

James Lowe came up against Chris Ashton last weekend at Welford Road.

LAST UPDATE | 11 May 2022

JAMES LOWE DIDN’T get a chance to go over or around Chris Ashton one-on-one last weekend but he did get an apology from the Leicester man.

Former England wing Ashton was critical of Lowe back in 2020 when England beat Ireland at Twickenham, pinpointing Lowe’s effort when Jonny May scored a stunning solo try from deep inside his own half.


“Where was James Lowe?” said Ashton at the time on the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

“He’s dragging a dresser back there. He’s too big. He’s dragging a tractor, mate, turning. I watched him during the game. He is too big, too heavy, too slow.”

Last Saturday was the first time the two players met on the pitch since those comments, with 35-year-old Ashton starting on the right wing for Leicester as 29-year-old Lowe started on the left wing for Leinster in their Champions Cup quarter-final win.

Post-match, Ashton was seen speaking to Lowe with his arm around the Ireland international.

“He just apologised obviously,” explained Lowe this week. “He said he was just caught in the moment and he obviously didn’t mean it. He said that he enjoyed the way I played, he loved how much I’ve grown as a player, and that was it.

“And I said, ‘Yup, that’s alright.’ But at the end of the day, he made his bed and he has got to sleep in it. But fair play, I understand he may have said some things he may not have meant in the heat of the moment. When you’re on live TV that’s what happened. That’s what you say.”

Ashton and Leicester are out of the Champions Cup, with Lowe and Leinster having marched into the semi-finals with a 23-14 win at Welford Road last weekend.

Lowe didn’t quite get as many touches of the ball as he would have liked in the stuttering second half, but he was as prominent as ever during the first half as Leinster built up an impressive 20-0 lead. As always, the roving Lowe popped up in midfield, out on the right, and wide on the left, as well as playing scrum-half at one stage.

james-lowe-is-tackled-by-julian-montoya Lowe is tackled in Welford Road last weekend. Evan Treacy / INPHO Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“With all the coaching staff, people are so interchangeable, communication is obviously a big thing,” said Lowe of his role.

“If the ball is on a plate to shift it and you’re the next one there, then you get it and shift it. If you can take a bit of pressure off Sexto [Johnny Sexton], who the English have openly talked about wherever Sexton is, that’s where the ball goes, so if you can take pressure off him and, all of a sudden, you’re the one out the back of the first shape or you’re the first receiver then you can give him a bit of breathing space for when he wants to do his thing.

“It’s something that is probably ingrained into our game now whether it’s here at Leinster or even in Ireland we’re told the exact thing.

“You’re a professional rugby player – if you can’t catch a ball and pass then you probably shouldn’t be here, especially in the backs but that’s all part of it. You’ve got to evolve, if you stay standing still someone else is thinking of something new to do. 

“I feel comfortable in those positions. If it helps the team, then I’ll be doing it.”

In what is another common feature of Leinster and Ireland’s play these days, Lowe linked up intuitively with influential scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park last weekend as he quick-tapped a mark in his 22. Gibson-Park swung up on Lowe’s outside shoulder as he drew in Ashton before passing, with Gibson-Park finding Hugo Keenan for a break up the left.

“Yeah, it’s a very obviously New Zealand thing to do, the quick-tap and he’s kind of chirping away the whole time,” said Lowe of the connection with Gibson-Park.

“He might throw a skip ball to me or vice-versa, or draw back on the inside, it’s all communication like. I don’t know whether I hear his voice specifically or whether he hears mine. We just have a trust and understanding that we both want to play front-foot football.

james-lowe Lowe links superbly with Jamison Gibson-Park. Evan Treacy / INPHO Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“He was like, ‘Tap it and go.’ I tapped it, saw a three-on-two, and knew if I just squared one dude up, he could tip it on to Hugo [Keenan], who almost gets run down by a tighthead prop [Dan Cole] down the sideline – let’s not forget that!

“But sure we’ve got a fair understanding of each other by now, we’ve been playing together for the last five or six years. He is a fantastic player and I’m glad he is on our side.”

Lowe’s partnership with Gibson-Park could be prominent again this weekend as Leinster do battle with Toulouse in their European semi-final back at the Aviva Stadium, where the French side pipped Munster in a penalty shoot-out last Saturday.

Well over 30,000 tickets have been sold for the Toulouse clash and Lowe said he had even offered to get on the phone and try to sell some more if the province needed it.

“10 minutes before this, I went in to thank our ticketing department because our travelling support in Leicester was very, very good. The boys and ladies next door definitely deserve a beer for it.”

With a big crowd roaring them on, four-time Champions Cup winners Leinster will look to advance past five-time winners Toulouse.

“Munster caused them a lot of problems but they didn’t get the job done at the end of the day, unfortunately,” said Lowe. “Toulouse’s big threat is with ball in hand and it doesn’t take away their defensive efforts as well.

james-lowe-applauds-fans-after-the-game Lowe is excited to take on Toulouse this weekend. Evan Treacy / INPHO Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“They’ve got some big boys in the loose forwards, their tight five is very heavy, physical. They play very good patterns around the ruck.

They’ve got Antoine Dupont, obviously the best nine in the world, the best player in the world, running the ship and then you’ve got [Romain] Ntamack out the back.

“When he wants the ball out the back, it normally means there is space, his show-and-gos, putting wingers through holes on the inside. There’s a lot to their game to digest but our system doesn’t change because of the personnel on their team.

“We’re not creating a new defensive structure because of their attacking flair. We’re good at what we do and we know if we stick to that, we’ll put our best foot forward come Saturday.”

- This article was updated at 8.40am to correct ‘Leicester’ to ‘Leinster’ in the ninth paragaph.

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