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Payne thrilled with progress of 'one of the hardest workers' Lowry

The 22-year-old kept a high tempo throughout the 9-try demolition of Zebre, Ulster’s sixth straight win.

Image: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

WHILE A GREAT deal of discussion around the international squad has swirled about the merits of the fullback from Ulster, the northern province have been rattling along nicely with another big prospect at 15.

Mike Lowry developed his game as a 10 and his talents were well flagged as he came through the academy at Newforge.

Yet the 22-year-old is quickly winning admirers in the back field.

“His whole game at fullback has really matured over the past number of weeks,” says Ulster defence coach Jared Payne, who is just about the best person to judge.

“He’s starting to make good decisions in counter attack – when to kick, when to run – he’s a lot more efficient there.

“His defensive positioning has come along massively. He hadn’t played a lot of fullback until he came to us, so he’s stawrting to understand the game well back there.”

At just 5′ 7″, Lowry clearly operates without a few physical advantages that are increasingly becoming the average across every position across the back-line. But what he lacks in stature he makes up for with his skill-set.

And no little application.

“He works hard, he’s one of the hardest workers in the team which helps him. He’s keen to play rugby and learn about it. He’s a pleasure to work with. He’s really progressing at the back, it’s great to see.

“Both sides of the ball he’s really coming along and the last few weeks have been a step up in his 15 smarts, I guess you could call it. Game sense.”

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As a player, Payne was required to play the highest level of the game in different positions. Most often a fullback for Ulster, Ireland head coach of the day Joe Schmidt preferred to use him in the centre. 15 to 10 is a far more common switch, but each move has its challenges.

“The more you do it, you learn your own little things you’ve got to do to make sure you transition right.

“Mikey’s a different person to me, I’m not sure what he does to get his mind right in between positions, but I think it’s just getting him out on the pitch, mate.”

It’s a sentiment Payne espouses regularly. There is little substitute for experience whether it be developing as a 15 or working kinks and mistakes out of a young player’s defensive habits.

“They’ve a bit to learn,” Payne says with a smile when prospects such as Lowry, James Hume, Ethan McIlroy and Stewart Moore are put to him as a group.

“But the strides they’re making is awesome. It’s always tough at this level, things happen a lot quicker, you make mistakes.

“The likes of James Hume or Stewart Moore might get picked off out in the 13 channel, which you might not at a younger level. It’s tough for them, but they’re learning heaps and they’re developing as good defensive players.

They just have to get out and learn, don’t they. I haven’t met any player that doesn’t make mistakes in a game, it’s all part of it.

“As long as they’re out there trying to learn from their mistakes and trying to get better.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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