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Dublin: 0°C Friday 16 April 2021

'I've always been a bit of a clown, it's just me, but you can't just come here for a blooming pay cheque'

James Lowe has made a big impression since arriving at Leinster, and the Kiwi winger hopes to prove his worth by helping the province to Champions Cup glory.

New Leinster Rugby signing James Lowe James Lowe is enjoying life with Leinster. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

BEWARE THE JOKER in the pack.

“Aw man, you’re in for a treat.”

Not many interviews start like this, then again not many players are like James Lowe.

He’s different. In a good way.

Two questions in, and laughter erupts.

He fidgets in his chair, and then the mind wanders off course.

The joker has become the butt of the joke.

Word has spread around Leinster’s headquarters that James Lowe is being interviewed, and here’s an opportunity for payback.

Scott Fardy — the most unsuspecting one of the lot — doesn’t waste it.

A mischievous smirk gives the Aussie’s game away, and he discreetly angles his phone towards his team-mate, who is trying to answer a serious question maturely.

Disregard the script, he doesn’t follow one.

“There are a few boys in here who are on my blooming hit list at the moment,” is Lowe’s response. “I feel they’ve got a very nice ride since they won Grand Slams.”

Cue more laughter.

There are no sacred cows when James Lowe is on form.

“It’s always in good heart and good faith, man,” he insists. “There’s nothing personal.”

His happy-go-lucky demeanour permeates the room, a minute in his company has you laughing. A maverick, an entertainer, a straight shooter, the freewheeling Kiwi is having a transformative effect on Leinster. And that’s just inside these four walls.

Nine tries in 11 appearances is an indication of the impact he has had in the last seven months, but that barely scratches the surface. His brilliance adds a new dimension to Leinster’s attack, his enthusiasm, energy and exuberance within a dressing room contagious. A mood breaker, and maker. A big personality.

Socks rolled down, orange boots and the unravelling of the man-bun; Lowe’s play-off-the-cuff approach is breathtaking, refreshing and a joy to watch. A box-office hit worth the admission fee alone.

James Lowe with Tom McCartney Lowe has already scored nine Leinster tries. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

See his brace against Benetton on debut, or his match-winning double against Scarlets. Or his sumptuous reverse offload for Max Deegan to crash over in the corner against Connacht. The list is endless. All outstanding attacking performances of crowd-thrilling quality. All done with a smile on his face.

“Aw, man, it’s just awesome,” he says of playing in blue. “The boys are playing well, you’ve got class players inside and outside of you week in, week out. You’ve got young up and comers who want to prove a point every week so rugby is the easy part.”

He makes it look easy, and is certainly living up to the billing.

Lowe’s easygoing personality meant it was always likely he would settle into the province with ease and become a firm favourite, although that’s as much down to the fact he has brought so much positive energy to the environment in such a short space of time.

The 25-year-old is a breath of fresh air, not just because he plays with a smile on his face and doesn’t seem to have a worry in the world, but his skills are matched by his remarkable honesty off the field. He talks the way he plays.

His mind races along, the words come out of his mouth at a million miles an hour, and you can’t help but be engrossed. There’s always a curveball.

“James is like, you know when you’re in school and you’ve got one kid in your class and he’s not quite as advanced as everyone else,” Johnny Sexton said recently when asked how he would best describe the Kiwi winger.

“My parents always used to tell me you always have to look after that kid, so I’m trying to make James feel at home and look after him but he still doesn’t quite get it, but he’s a good rugby player which is the main thing.”

A very talented rugby player.

In a sport which has become so heavily reliant on rigid systems, structures and processes, Lowe possesses an innate ability to transform a game in a split second; his power, dexterity and rugby intelligence all standing out as key weapons in an impressive armour.

Something always happens when James Lowe is involved, and more often than not it’s a splash of anarchy.

A coach’s dream, but also a nightmare. Some aren’t a fan and they’re quick to point out his defensive frailties, but impulsive players, whose default setting is positivity, are a rare commodity.

“When I wake up I just realise I’m playing rugby on the other side of the world, man, like if you’re not happy about that, then I don’t know what would put a smile on your face,” he says, slouched back in his chair.

James Lowe The Kiwi arrived from the Chiefs in November on a three-year deal. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It’s always been me, I’ve always been a bit of a clown, people thought I had ADHD when I was growing up.

“When it comes to the serious times, I’m always there, I’m always engaged and doing whatever needs to be done. But you have to have a laugh man, you always do. If you take things too seriously you’ll bloody get too wound up. It’s just how I am.

“You always have to have a smile on your face, if you’re not enjoying it don’t do it.”


He continues along those lines: “You still have to be a professional athlete but there are definitely times where you can let your hair down and, bloody hell, you can’t be serious 24/7 because you’ll run yourself up the wall.

“Around the boys, when it’s just us, it’s awesome to just be able to talk rubbish and give each other stick. I’m still relatively serious when it comes to, I guess, recovery and looking after myself.”

That’s the thing. Don’t be fooled by the laid-back attitude, because winning is everything.

Lowe is living the dream, bringing us all on this adventure of his, but he is a young man out to do the best he can, having moved to the other side of the world away from family and friends.

He made no secret of the reasons behind his switch to Leinster — “I don’t come from a very wealthy background so financially this will probably be the smartest business decision I’ll ever make” — and will become the last player to become eligible to play for Ireland under the three-year residency rule before it is increased to five years.

Moving to Dublin from the Chiefs was seen as a fresh start, and a chance to experience life in a new, exciting city with a clear head. No worries, no stress. Just embrace the risk, and enjoy the ride.

“Settling in has been awesome man,” he says. “It’s hard to say what’s life going to be like moving to the complete opposite side of the world.

“I literally thought it was going to be a huge…like I’ve been to London and I thought, man, it’s gonna be just like London, this crazy hectic place but I got here, and I was like ‘man, it’s not even that big’.

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“But it’s cool because I know my way around now, I know how to get from A to B very, very easily. It’s cool, it’s a lot of fun. It’s just good, man.

“As soon as I got here I got into a flat, got into a nice place, and my girlfriend came two months after that so we’re both very settled now. Both very independent and still running our own lives, she wakes me up at six every morning to go to the bloody gym but it’s good.

James Lowe celebrates his try Lowe is adapting to life in Dublin well after making the move from New Zealand. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“She’s enjoying life here, and she has found a friend group and I feel like if you can get everything right off the pitch, then on the pitch becomes a lot easier. Like my day-to-day job becomes a lot easier because I’m not worrying about other things.”

A world away from Nelson on New Zealand’s south island, where Lowe was born and raised, but that’s okay. He has enjoyed the change of scenery, and holds no regrets over the decision to leave home for pastures new, even though he describes himself as a homeboy.

Lowe was educated at Nelson College and emerged as a prodigious talent playing for local club side Waimea Old Boys, rather than the New Zealand underage representative sides, but a promising career was very nearly ended before it really got going.

At the age of 15, Lowe contracted a severe rash and within a couple of weeks, he was left bedridden and in deep pain having been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a long-term autoimmune disorder that primarily affects joints.

“Things would work for an hour or a day and then I’d be back in bed and then finally they found this drug which worked but I needed clearance from the Government to get a subsidy,” he explains.

“I haven’t had any flare-ups since I was like 18. It’s something I live with. It takes me a bit longer to recover from such a physical sport, but I’m still able to perform, to train and get through absolutely everything. As long as my body holds up I’ll keep playing rugby.”

After fighting through the toughest of times, finding the mental and physical strength, and showing remarkable determination, Lowe worked his way back onto the rugby pitch to forge a standout career.

He instantly began to fulfil his undoubted potential and made his debut for Tasman in 2012, before being picked up by the Chiefs two years later.

His form last season in Super Rugby was eye-catching and recognition had come in the form of four appearances for the Maori All Blacks, but a call-up to Steve Hansen’s squad was proving more difficult.

Lowe’s scintillating ability was not going unnoticed and while he was included in a couple of extended All Blacks panels, the reality was that Julian Savea, Waisake Naholo, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Israel Dagg were all ahead of him in the pecking order.

With the possibility of Test caps not forthcoming, he had a tough decision to make.

“Talking to people back home, there were specific people I talked to who had been near the Leinster environment, that if there was any environment in the world to go to, that would be one of their top picks,” Lowe says.

Jamison Gibson-Park and Hayden Triggs were both able to give him inside knowledge on the Leinster environment and then his potential move to the three-time European champions was given a ringing endorsement from a former All Blacks head coach.

“It was actually Sir Graham Henry that said that to me at a charity function, he was like ‘there isn’t a club I want you to go to more’ and when he said that I was just like ‘man, wow’.

Duncan Williams and James Lowe The Nelson native played four times for the Maori All Blacks. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“You know, he coached the All Blacks for years and has one of the best records, so to hear him say that made things a lot easier. I’d already decided pre-talking to him…but he told me that he had been to Leinster, and said it’s easily one of the best environments he had seen.”

Mind made up, decision made, even if giving up on his All Black dream was tough.

“You’ve got to make some big boy decisions throughout your career and this was definitely the biggest for me,” he continues. “It wasn’t a move to another Super Rugby franchise, it was a move to the other side of the world.

“After sitting down talking to family, they said if you were going to be an international, we thought you would have been one by now and I was kind of like ‘yeah’ and my parents said that they were still proud of me whatever happened.

“I guess once you get past that stage, when playing for the All Blacks isn’t the ultimate goal, you’ve got to think down the line. Financially, it’s a lot nicer to come over here.

“Instead of doing it for three or four years at the end of my career, if I can do it for 10 and set myself up. Why wouldn’t you do it?”

Refreshingly honest, perhaps too honest, but it’s certainly not all about the pay cheque, particularly when his current medal haul amounts to a single ITM Cup title with Tasman from 2013. He’d love to address that over the next few weeks.

Long-term, Lowe is also determined to bring his game to the next level at Leinster under Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster and continue to work on fully integrating into the side’s defensive structures. He has made significant strides, thanks in part to Isa Nacewa’s help, but by his own admission, there is still much work to do.

“You can’t just come over here for a blooming pay cheque,” he insists. “You’ve got to find a connection and I still feel I’ve got a lot more to give to the game and I still feel I can get a lot better.

“What Leinster have, it’s something you don’t find anywhere else, how patriotic people are here. They don’t want to leave, they don’t want to go to other clubs which is good, you’d never find that around the world.

“Everyone loves it, why would they go somewhere else? The academy system is strong, everyone downstairs is very professional and we have everything we need. It’s cool to come here, man.”

It’s certainly a good time to be at Leinster and already Lowe has played a significant part in the province’s two-pronged title tilt in his debut season, with a seismic couple of weeks ahead for the club.

Optimum Nutrition, Official Sport Nutrition Partner to Leinster Rugby Lowe was last week speaking as part of Optimum Nutrition's sponsorship of Leinster Rugby. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

The squad have spent the last couple of weeks working hard for Saturday’s Champions Cup final and their preparations will intensity in UCD today as the challenge posed by Racing 92 comes into sharp focus.

Lowe, of course, missed the semi-final defeat of Scarlets due to the regulations surrounding non-EU players and was forced to watch on as his team-mates produced another impressive performance to book their place in Bilbao.

“I feel like you can’t just go around resenting people, you know. I was sad I was in the stands but I was happy for the boys, everyone was yelling and screaming.”

He doesn’t let these things bother him, though, as evidenced by his celebrations on the pitch at full-time. He just goes with the flow. Rugby, after all, is just a game.

“I make sure I do the homework I need to do, like I take my book home and I get my body right, but I can chill out,” Lowe says of turning off as soon as he leaves the building for the day.

“I’ll go home and fall asleep on the floor just watching TV or playing Playstation. Probably start cooking dinner shortly and then the missus will get home, we’ve got our good routine. But man there’s a rule at my house unless it’s Super Rugby…or unless it’s a team we’re playing the next week, you’re not allowed watch rugby at mine.

“It’s nothing against northern hemisphere rugby, but man I don’t like watching rugby. I come here and I’m doing rugby every day. If your old man worked in an office building, would he come home and watch people working in an office? Nah you would not do that so why would I do it? It’s entertaining, but it’s not me.”

Lowe does it his way, and you can’t argue with that. Bubbly and quirky characters are good for the game, and in an age when there can be 30 automatons on the pitch, he brings something beautifully different.

Leinster hope Luke McGrath will come through training this week, allowing Lowe to come back into the side, and the Champions Cup final would be all the better for it.

“Aw man, tell me about it, I’d love to play,” he adds. “Everybody wants to play there but it’s not about me. There are so many people here who have worked so hard for so many years.

“I mean you’ve got two blooming GOATs [Isa Nacewa and Richardt Strauss] who have retired this year, so I mean it’s not about me, it’s for those fellas.”

He was right, that was a treat.

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