Leinster winger James Lowe. Alamy Stock Photo
looking sharp

'Timing is everything' - Lowe back up and running ahead of Ireland's Six Nations opener

The winger returned to action for Leinster’s Champions Cup win against Stade Francais last weekend.

IT HIS TYPICAL laid-back style, James Lowe cracks a few jokes before sitting down for his first Leinster media session of the season. The gap between Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final exit in October and Lowe’s return to action with Leinster last weekend has passed quickly, but the more Ireland’s Six Nations opener with France inched closer, the more eager supporters became to see the winger lace up his boots again.

The 31-year-old went home to New Zealand following the World Cup and was kept busy over December, as Lowe and his wife, Arnica, celebrated their first Christmas with their young son.

There’s been plenty to keep the mind occupied but as the weeks rolled by Lowe found himself increasingly keen to lace up the boots again. He looked sharp during his try-scoring return against Stade Francais and is primed to feature away to Leicester Tigers this weekend, fresh from being named in Andy Farrell’s 34-man Ireland squad yesterday. 

“Timing is everything in life isn’t it?” Lowe says.

It’s like he’s never been away.

“I was hoping to play the first round of Champions Cup but I tore a muscle in my foot and that put me back a little bit, and the Ulster game was probably where I felt 100%. I was just off there. They sort of made a call early on in the week to give me, I think it was 10 days between those two games, so yeah I am absolutely stoked to be back playing rugby.

You get to a stage where you actually start missing it. Watching the games on TV, even that La Rochelle game (in December) you almost feel sick on the inside just watching it, nerves… I’m glad to be back playing rugby.”

Even when Lowe wasn’t involved on matchdays there was plenty of homework to keep on top of as Leinster’s new assistant coach Jacques Nienaber went about implementing his defensive system. 

It will be fascinating to see how Lowe adapts to the new approach. The winger is known for his class with ball in hand but has also turned the defensive side of his game into a real strength.

“It’s tough,” Lowe says of Nienaber’s system.

“It is very, very different, don’t get me wrong, but I can understand and everyone can probably see the benefits of it as well.

hugo-keenan-with-james-lowe Lowe returned to the Leinster team for the win against Stade Francais last weekend. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

“We are not having to make as many tackles. Yeah, we get broken every now and then, but everyone is getting on the same page and causing turnovers.

“I missed a couple at the weekend, but overall, I was happy enough. It looks very, very different to what we used to do, but it’s sort of the same principles, just get up and hit whoever is on your inside and out.”

Lowe continues to explain how his own specific role in the team is being tweaked.

“Normally we are very well spaced across the pitch and making decisions, but at the end of the day, I just do whatever Garry (Ringrose) does or whatever Robbie (Henshaw) does.

If Robbie goes in, then I follow him in. If Robbie stays out or Garry stays out, I stay out, so there are a lot of decision-making aspects that for me rely on them.

“It’s just a lot more line speed. I’m sure everyone can probably see that in our defensive setups now. It looks like we are short but we put on enough line speed to hopefully cause teams into errors or turn back in, and once you get a dominant hit in, we are able to get our spacings and go again, our ‘15’ closes early, our wings work a lot harder across the pitch.

“But in saying that, this weekend (against Leicester), we are coming up against a ‘10’ (Handrè Pollard) who has had to deal with that in the South African environment for years on years, so he probably has a few tricks up his sleeve to try and dismantle us.

“So that’s always an interesting thing, but look, we’ll put him under as much pressure as we can.”

Following the Leicester game Lowe will head into Ireland camp ahead of the start of the 2024 Six Nations. Given how heavily represented Leinster are in the Ireland camp – with 19 players from the province in Farrell’s squad – it will be interesting to see if Leinster’s new defensive ideas bleed into the Ireland system.

“It is different, but then I find, we have also added to our own arsenal that we (Ireland) back ourselves and we back our line speed.

james-lowe-with-andy-farrell Lowe is part of Andy Farrell's 34-man Six Nations squad. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“I think we can marry the two up in a hybrid sort of way. But we will have to wait and see what Simon (Easterby) wants to do.

“He has always encouraged us to be brave and bring a bit more line speed, so I think he will be happy with what he sees here, and probably add his own wee twist on because our defence for Ireland, we didn’t need to change anything.

“I thought we were very, very good (at the World Cup), so yeah, it will be interesting to see.”

There will be further change over the summer as Leinster coach Andrew Goodman prepares to replace Mike Catt and take charge of the Ireland attack. It’s a welcome appointment in Lowe’s eyes given his long relationship with fellow New Zealander Goodman.

“Catty has been phenomenal ever since I have gone into that Irish camp,” Lowe says.

“But Goody, he’s from my hometown back in Nelson. He was the captain of Tasman when I was coming through, so he was always a bit of a legend in those parts. He was my PE teacher at Nelson College, his father was my rugby manager for years. He is a legend of a bloke.

“I’m absolutely stoked to have seen him come to Leinster and thrive and then for the Irish boys to see that and for him to get the nod of approval is awesome.

“I wouldn’t say that he is following me around… but he is!”

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