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Lowry moves on from Zebo incident ahead of third straight Ulster start

The 20-year-old has found himself in the headlines in recent weeks for differing reasons.

AGAINST THE LEICESTER Tigers, Michael Lowry made all the headlines for the right reasons. Against Racing 92, he made them for slightly different reasons.

It’s been well documented now about the Simon Zebo incident — the finger point, the apology (both in person and on social media) and the inevitable fallout. That’s done and dusted, everyone move on and forget about it.

Simon Zebo and Michael Lowry Simon Zebo embraces Lowry at full-time in Paris last week. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Except Lowry himself never had a chance to speak out about it. Until now.

“I expected it to be on social media a wee bit but I think it’s blown up a bit,” the 20-year old states with a little bit of tongue-in-cheek.

“At the time I didn’t think much of it to be fair, I think he just got a bit excited, like most people would in front of their home fans in that stadium. I tried not to put too much on social media, just apology accepted, he apologised and we made up.”

Still, he can’t deny the impact it’s had. The video went viral, fans assessed their opinion and filed onto either side of the argument while columnists lined up to have their say on whether Zebo needed to apologise or not.

Meanwhile, Lowry retreated into the shadows, happy to let the rest of the rugby world have the debate on his behalf.

“When you see videos published online all the time about rugby players, you never think that one day that could be you,” he admits. “When I went out on Saturday night I was looking at newsfeeds and it was all of me and Zebo.

“I didn’t expect it to be fair, I expected a bit of tweeting and some statuses, but I didn’t think it’d be published on every single website.

“I didn’t think about an apology, to be fair, at all. I was just thinking next play sort of thing, but looking back on it, it’s nice to see he came over and apologised.”

At least it had one positive impact.

“My (social media) followers went up massively so I was over the moon!” Lowry laughs. “In terms of that respect it was quite good.”

Moving on from the raging debate, as Lowry endeavours to do, it’s good to sit down with the Ulster Academy prospect, who has tabbed from an early age as one of the brighter lights to come through the underage system in recent memory.

The driving force behind RBAI’s three-in-a-row Schools’ Cup successes from 2015 to 2017 from fly-half, there was hope that he would be the next big thing as Ulster began their rebuild from within, and so far he’s lived up to the hype.

After missing a year through a long-term groin injury, making an abbreviated return for Banbridge in their Division 1B play-offs in the All-Ireland League last season, this season he’s made the big breakthrough.

A cameo of a debut in the crushing defeat at Thomond Park was quickly followed by a surprise first start against Leicester in the Heineken Champions Cup, and was then backed up by another start in Paris against Racing 92.

Ulster’s Michael Lowry Lowry has impressed in recent weeks. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

So far he’s excelled too, last week setting the record for the most metres gained by an Ulster player in a European fixture since they started keeping stats, and already there’s hope that this will lead to a prolonged stay in the first team.

So, how do you cope with that as a 20-year old?

“It’s been an incredible experience,” he grins. “This time last year, I never thought I’d be playing in Europe against Racing and Leicester. Obviously I’ve been over the moon to get in the squad and to get playing and to get 80 minutes in both games.

“I try to be quite relaxed before games but also through the week I’ll be thinking about everything. Before the Leicester game, I was thinking they’re going to definitely target me in the air and they did.

“The first high ball went up, the way the ball went I didn’t get on to it, but the rest of them I had the confidence just to go for it after that and I think it’s really important to have a bit of confidence.

“It’s really important to have that and try to be calm. If you get too nervous, nerves can be a good thing and I do get butterflies the odd time before games, but once the whistle goes you have to be ice in the head.”

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The stats reflect on a good start to his pro career, and he’s certainly passed the eye test too with some brave charges into big defenders and some crisp passes you’d expect from a fly-half filling in at full-back.

“I’ve been happy enough with my performances so far and I think some people won’t realise the individual mistakes, some of the mistakes you’ll make during a game but the coaches will realise and I think it’s important to keep on top of that,” is Lowry’s honest assessment.

“I’ll be really hard on myself, (if I’m) making little mistakes that not a lot of people will notice during a game, like if you’re meant to be at a certain ruck, maybe things like that, but in general I’ve been pretty happy with my performances so far.”

But the former Ireland Under-20s star – he’s too old to represent them at underage level now – admits that it’s all down to that year he spent on the sidelines for where he is now, acknowledging the work he did paid off in the long run.

“Last year was a tough year, I took those nine months out just to get right and I think it was a blessing in disguise really,” says Lowry. “I got stronger and fitter as well, I did a lot of work with David Drake and he prepared me really really well.

Michael Lowry Tonight will be his third straight start. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I wasn’t running lengths basically, I was mixing with my fitness, doing handling drills and kicking drills that would have me blowing, and I wasn’t running for the sake of running.

“He prepared me really well and got me ready for it physically, and then mentally I just chatted with the coaches through plays and then at the end of last season I started to integrate into training, and then through pre-season it was the same and then I finally got an opportunity to play.”

This week, it’s back to the Guinness Pro14 and Ulster welcome the Dragons to Kingspan Stadium tonight [KO 7.55pm, eir Sport/Premier Sport] for a must-win clash after three defeats in their last four outings in both competitions.

Lowry will again line up at full-back and will hope he can lead Ulster to what should be their first bonus point win of the season, although the pacy back admits they’ll have to improve dramatically on their accuracy from last week.

“It’s really important to get a win this weekend,” he states. “We’ve taken positives from the last couple of weeks, and even Munster and Connacht, we’re creating a lot of opportunities but we’re just not finishing them, so I think it’s important we finish them this weekend and show we will be a good side.”


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

Ulster:

15. Michael Lowry
14. Robert Baloucoune
13. Will Addison
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Henry Speight
10. Johnny McPhillips
9. David Shanahan

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. Rory Best
3. Marty Moore
4. Iain Henderson
5. Kieran Treadwell
6. Sean Reidy
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Marcell Coetzee.

Replacements:

16. Rob Herring
17. Andrew Warwick
18. Tom O’Toole
19. Alan O’Connor
20. Greg Jones
21. Jonny Stewart
22. Angus Kernohan
23. Craig Gilroy.

Dragons:

15. Jordan Williams
14. Dafydd Howells
13. Adam Warren
12. Jarryd Sage
11. Will Talbot-Davies
10. Jason Tovey
9. Rhodri Williams

1. Brok Harris
2. Richard Hibbard
3. Lloyd Fairbrother
4. Matthew Screech
5. Lewis Evans
6. Huw Taylor
7. Nic Cudd
8. Harrison Keddie.

Replacements:

16. Rhys Lawrence
17. Aaron Jarvis
18. Ryan Bevington
19. Joseph Davies
20. Taine Basham
21. Tavis Knoyle
22. Jack Dixon
23. Zane Kirchner.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR).

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