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'Look at Damien McKenzie and Beauden Barrett, they can play multiple positions'

Ulster’s 22-year-old Michael Lowry is comfortable at either out-half or fullback.

WITH MANY RUGBY teams looking to get a second creative playmaker into their backline, we’re seeing a lot more out-halves doubling up as fullbacks, or even moving permanently into the number 15 shirt.

This might not be something totally new, but it certainly is becoming more and more common in New Zealand rugby and elsewhere.

The idea is that another decision-making player who can both distribute and pose a threat themselves in the number 15 shirt takes pressure off the man wearing the number 10 jersey.

Dan McFarland’s Ulster provide an interesting case study with their use of 22-year-old Michael Lowry, who came through underage as an out-half but has played more of his senior rugby at 15, while also still getting minutes at 10 for the province.

“It’s good to have players that can play in other positions and I’m happy to play anywhere,” says Lowry.

“Obviously, longer-term down the line I’d love to make a decision but you look at Damien McKenzie and Beauden Barrett, they can play multiple positions. I think the way the game is going, a lot of players can do that. The game is changing, it’s constantly evolving.”

Lowry will be in Ulster’s number 15 shirt for today’s Guinness Pro14 clash with Zebre in Italy [KO 6pm, eir Sport] but feels he now has a far greater appreciation for both positions. 

“If I want to attack as a 10, I know how a 15 operates now and that wasn’t really a thing for me before,” says Lowry of the benefits.

“Now I know that it can help my game at 10 and vice versa. It is slightly different. There are more impacts and tackles at 10, at 15 there’s a lot more grass cover.”

When he’s at fullback, Lowry still enjoys taking on playmaking responsibility. 

“Because I’ve played 10, I do think I can play in that playmaking role from fullback. There are different kinds of 15. The likes of McKenzie, he’ll be that playmaker, you won’t see much crash ball from him.

michael-lowry Lowry starts against Zebre this evening. Source: Rogan Thompson/INPHO

“As a 15, you can help out. I know from playing 10 that when you have a 15 who helps out, who splits the field with him on one side and you on the other, it makes life a lot easier making those decisions.”

Whatever the position, Lowry appears to have a bright future given his impressive form under McFarland.

Lowry has been working on the fine details around his kicking game meaning both his long kicking from hand and his shorter attacking kicks are showing consistent improvement.

“The more weapons you have going into a game, the better,” says Lowry. “If you’ve more shots to fire and teams don’t know what you’re going to do next, that unpredictability is a good thing.”

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5ft 7ins Lowry certainly does bring an element of unpredictability that can unsettle defences.

As his recent instinctive finish against Cardiff underlined, Lowry also has startling acceleration to go along with his sharp footwork.

“Not over long distances, maybe the first 10 metres,” he says with a laugh when asked if he’s quicker than Ulster’s wings.

“The main thing with our backline is that we all back ourselves and you have to do that.”

Zebre:

15. Michelangelo Biondelli
14. Pierre Bruno
13. Giulio Bisegni (captain)
12. Enrico Lucchin
11. Gabriele Di Giulio
10. Antonio Rizzi
9. Joshua Renton
1.Andrea Lovotti
2. Marco Manfredi
3. Eduardo Bello
4. Leonard Krumov
5. Ian Nagle
6. Nardo Casolari
7. Renato Giammarioli
8. Lorenzo Masselli

Replacements:

16. Massimo Ceciliani
17. Riccardo Brugnara
18. Alexandru Tarus
19. Mick Kearney
20. Antoine Koffi
21. Nicolò Casilio
22. Paolo Pescetto
23. Junior Laloifi

Ulster:

15. Michael Lowry
14. Craig Gilroy
13. Luke Marshall
12. Stewart Moore
11. Ethan McIlroy
10. Bill Johnston
9. Alby Mathewson

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. John Andrew
3. Marty Moore
4. Alan O’Connor
5. Sam Carter (captain)
6. Greg Jones
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Marcell Coetzee

Replacements:

16. Adam McBurney
17. Andrew Warwick
18. Gareth Milasinovich
19. David O’Connor
20. Sean Reidy
21. David Shanahan
22. Ian Madigan
23. Rob Lyttle

Referee: Ben Whitehouse [WRU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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