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Dublin: 12°C Saturday 8 May 2021

Days on the big stage leave 20-year-old Ulster star Lowry wanting more

After a debut delayed by injury, Lowry has proven why he is one of the brightest prospects in the northern province this season.

Lowry cuts inside during the quarter-final clash with Leinster.
Lowry cuts inside during the quarter-final clash with Leinster.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

MIKE LOWRY WEARS a grave expression on his youthful face as the first question lands with a thud.

The42 last encountered the young Ulster playmaker in pre-season, before his 20th birthday and before he had won his first senior cap for his native province.

So approaching the end of a campaign which has seen him rewarded with a full professional contract after some excellent outings at both fullback and out-half we cheerily ask whether he’s enjoyed his first season in senior rugby. But Lowry’s first instinct is not to pat himself on the back, but to seek out areas for improvement and he bemoans the injuries which limited him to 14 appearances – five of them coming in Ulster’s run to the Champions Cup quarter-final.

“I’ve been in and out, sort of crazy with injuries,” Lowry laments before the bright side comes through.

“I thought I would have to play a few games of club (with Banbridge), but I was lucky enough to get an opportunity. A few injuries but I was given that opportunity to play a bit of fullback and that was my first real taste of fullback as well.”

Back in July, when Lowry said he felt lucky just to be training with the seniors, he was running from fullback as Ulster upped the intensity of their preparations ahead of Dan McFarland’s arrival. Before that, having starred as an out-half in school, his experience in the back-field was limited to a stint for Ireland U20s.

Now he is tried and trusted.

“I didn’t expect to come in at the start of the European Cup against Leicester at home, I didn’t expect that at all. It was one of those things that you sort of look back at now and think it’s unbelievable. But at the time I didn’t really think much of it, but it is when you look back at it now.”

A week after his European debut, and just three weeks after his debut proper, came the even more surreal prospect of playing in La Defense Arena, a venue befitting the reality TV that was to unfold for Lowry as he became the centre of a storm generated around Simon Zebo as the Corkman playfully waved away his would-be tackler.

“At the time I actually thought nothing of it until he came over and apologised. I just said ‘don’t worry about it.’ I wasn’t offended whatsoever.”

Simon Zebo and Michael Lowry Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Plenty were offended on his behalf. Lowry is often credited around the Kingspan Stadium as an old head on young shoulders, but even at 5’7″ he is plenty big enough to stand up and speak for himself.

“Back in the changing room after, I just looked at my phone and it was absolutely mad, absolutely crazy. It wasn’t really expected, but those moments, again, playing at the U Arena was unbelievable, even meeting the likes of Simon Zebo (having) grown up watching him play for Ireland, making fabulous breaks and tries and all sorts.

It’s one of those things, it’s kind of weird when you look back on it but at the time you just think, it’s just a game of rugby.”

“Those are the moments: going away to Racing… even going to the Aviva, they’re just really special moments. Especially after the game against Leinster in the Aviva, there were 55,000 people and that’s the first time I’ve experienced that. It was really special.

“My whole family and friends were all down and it was a really special day. It hit me pretty quickly after that game how special it was, they may not come around very often, those sort of derby games in the Heineken Cup.

“Besty said: ‘these occasions are why you play rugby’ and those are the days that you’ll remember. I think progressing on, that will stand us in good stead, playing in that. Hopefully, that will boost us on for more European Cup quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals.”

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Lowry has figuratively waved goodbye to plenty of defenders himself thanks to the chance to play from 15 in an Ulster side brimming with attacking intent. Still four months shy of his 21st birthday, Lowry credits Jared Payne with a large part of his progress, but he has been given license by his backs coach to go at space when he sees it.

Michael Lowry Lowry was speaking ahead of Ulster v Leinster at Kingspan Stadium. Kingspan delivers high efficiency, low carbon building solutions. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“With Dwayne Peel coming in, he just said to me ‘have a crack’. When you’re young, you have no fear so you can just have a crack and have a go. That’s what we’ve been told, have a crack when we want to.

“We’ll have to learn from mistakes because mistakes will happen but we’ve just been told ‘have a go and see how it goes. If there’s space there, absolutely, take it.’

“The way we’re playing at the minute, I absolutely love it. But there will be times that we’ll have to change gameplan or whatever. It’s a game by game sort of thing.

“There have been times that we have thrown the ball out, but times we’ve kept it quite narrow. I think it’s enjoyable to play in, that you’re changing up the game constantly but if there’s an opportunity, absolutely have a go which is really enjoyable to playing in.”

Lowry is undoubtedly enjoying the “freedom” that comes from being deployed at fullback, but Ulster must hope to be able to build a team around his talents as a 10 in the decade ahead. Billy Burns’ inventive range of kicking have made him a successful addition in the northern province’s back-line and Johnny McPhillips’ game management will keep him in the pecking order. However, the former RBAI star has every right to target taking 10 shirt as his own and he is intent on ironing out whatever creases he needs to in order to achieve that goal.

Michael Lowry and Billy Burns celebrate after the game Lowry and Billy Burns celebrate a win over Leicester. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think there’s a lot of things I can work on at the minute. Dwayne Peel has said what he wants me to work on and we know that, between each other, that there are things I need to work on.

“Billy has been playing excellent so pushing him out of the driving seat at the minute (will be difficult) when he’s got a great kicking game, short passing game, when he’s on form he’s one of the best in the business at that.

“I’m just enjoying playing anywhere at the minute and I think as a young guy, you just want to be playing week in, week out and you don’t mind whether you’re 15 or 10.

“We had that experience of 10 at the start of the Ospreys game, I loved it as well. It’s just one of those things, I just love playing. At the minute, I’m happy, but in the long term I definitely will want to move into 10 a wee bit more.”

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to get stuck into last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-finals.:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Sean Farrell

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