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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 22 April 2021

'He's a small bloke in stature but he's got a big heart. He's been awesome'

Michael Lowry has impressed his new Ulster team-mate, Billy Burns.

AT JUST 79KG, Michael Lowry is a genuine lightweight in the world of professional rugby, dominated as it is by imposingly large athletes.

But the 20-year-old Ulster academy man is punching well above his weight, with two impressive performances at fullback for the province in the Heineken Champions Cup in the last two weeks underlining how special a talent he is.

Michael Lowry Lowry has impressed for Ulster. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Lowry’s bravery, handling skills, intelligence and speed have stood out in Ulster’s games against Leicester and Racing 92 – his first two starts for the province.

The former Royal Belfast Academical Institution student made his Ulster debut last month against Munster in the Pro14, although it’s likely he would have been capped last season but for a groin injury ruining his 2017/18 campaign.

You see, they’re very excited about Lowry in Ulster. He was a central figure in the RBAI teams that won three consecutive Schools’ Senior Cup titles under Dan Soper, captaining them to their 2017 victory.

Best known as an out-half, Lowry has also played at fullback for the Ireland U20s, and has composure in bucketloads, as evidenced by the manner in which he handled Leicester’s aerial targetting of him in Belfast two weekends ago.

“He’s been awesome,” said Ulster out-half Billy Burns after their defeat to Racing on Saturday. “If you saw him before, he’s walking in like he was going to play a Schools Cup game.

“He’s actually turned into a really good communicator out there too for someone so young who has played so little senior rugby. Tonight, every time he gets the ball you feel he’s going to make something happen.

“He’s a small bloke in stature but he’s got a big heart. The boys have all really enjoyed having him out there and the thing is, during the week, he’s so willing to learn.

“He’s quizzing everyone and he wants to learn as much stuff as he can. He’s a real talent for the future and he’s a real talent now.”

Wenceslas Lauret and Henry Chavancy tackles Will Addison The versatile Addison has been an excellent addition. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Lowry’s progress is one of several reasons for Ulster to be positive about how they are moving forward under head coach Dan McFarland.

A number of young players – Angus Kernohan, Tom O’Toole, Angus Curtis and others – are showing their promise, but the addition of the Irish-qualified Will Addison has been important too.

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The 26-year-old is expected to be part of the Ireland squad named tomorrow ahead of the November Tests – with his ability to play in midfield, on the wing and at fullback attractive to Joe Schmidt.

“He’s very clever and he really understands the game,” said Burns. “He’s a great communicator and obviously, we’ve moved him to 13. He was flying at 15 and then had some rotten luck with injury. He’s a massive player for us.

“He’s played a lot of rugby in the Premiership and he gives a different dimension. We haven’t got Cavey [Darren Cave] at the minute but Will has stepped up and he deserves the plaudits. If we can get the ball in the hands of our back three we’ve seen how dangerous they can be.”

Burns himself has quickly become a key man for Ulster, having joined from Gloucester in the summer, and has started all eight of their games so far this season.

The 24-year-old has been a calm presence at out-half, with his attacking kicking impressing too – his double cross-field kicks for Jacob Stockdale’s try against Racing were a delight.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Burns. “It’s a completely different challenge to what I’m used to and it’s been great to have the opportunity to play every week. I’m a player that likes to play every week if I can. I’m looking for that consistency.

Ulster’s Billy Burns Burns is Irish-qualified. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“At fly-half, consistency helps the team too. In a new environment, a new style, we’re working hard every week and if we can keep improving I don’t think we’re a million miles away.”

Also Irish-qualified, Burns is certainly now on Schmidt’s radar but he said he’s simply concentrating on settling at Ulster before beginning to think about an international call-up.

“I’m here to stake my claim for Ulster and to play ten for Ulster,” said Burns. “I’ve always said that I want to play international rugby but at the moment there’s enough competition with Ulster that it’s my place here I’ve to worry about.

“I’m just trying to bed in here and get some consistency going. I am getting there but it’s not really on my mind at the minute.”

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Murray Kinsella

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