‘He’s one of those world-class players’: Leinster’s Kiwi magician a joy to behold

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

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WHAT OF THE majesty, and box-office brilliance, of James Lowe, Leinster’s Kiwi magician?

Was this his best performance in a blue shirt, an all-action display embellished by two muscular tries and a whole lot more?

In full flow, he is a joy to behold. 

Lowe links with Robbie Henshaw at the Aviva Stadium. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He’s one of those world-class players,” Johann van Graan agreed afterwards, having watched Lowe cause untold damage to his side throughout the 80 minutes at the Aviva Stadium.

“You’ve got to cut down his space. He did pretty well in that semi-final last year as well. You’ve got to say well done, I thought he played really well tonight.” 

The stats — 11 runs across 53 metres, two clean breaks and three offloads — barely scratch the surface of a match-turning, match-winning performance as Lowe enhanced his remarkable strike-rate to 14 tries in 17 Leinster appearances.

As is his wont, he was in the thick of it from start to finish. See his thumping left-footed clearance off Joey Carbery’s kick-off, or his no-look pass inside for Dan Leavy in the build-up to Leinster’s opening score.

And then there was two acrobatic finishes, one in each corner either side of half-time, which proved to be the difference on the scoreboard, as Leinster — showing all their champion quality — made it four straight wins over Munster, and 10 on the bounce at this venue.

His power and dexterity in contact, and indeed when finishing, is supreme and again this was evident here, as Lowe barrelled his way through Alby Mathewson and Niall Scannell to dot down, for Leinster’s early 14-0 lead.

By the time he scored his second, Munster had rebounded strongly and brought it back to an eight-point game, but another Lowe moment of brilliance, this time finishing acrobatically off another whipped pass wide from Jamison Gibson-Park, created daylight between the sides. 

Not only did Lowe have to check and gather the pass, but then showed incredible strength and skill to hold off Jean Kleyn — no easy feat — while keeping himself in play as gravity took him the other way. The swan dive finish was the 26-year-old at his devastating best.

One had to wonder how he was pipped for the man of the match award, although that’s no slight on Ross Byrne who produced an assured display of his own in the pivot position, kicking faultlessly from the tee for 13 crucial points.

“James is a handful for defences,” Leo Cullen smiled in his post-match press conference.

“Very, very strong in contact, and he’s gone well the last couple of weeks. He’s a constant threat and he’s into everything, he’s a good addition for us.

“He has become very passionate about the team, which is good. It’s what you want. It was tough for him last year when you think back to this time last year he was playing the Mitre 10 competition so he wasn’t here, and he came off a Super Rugby competition with the Chiefs and then the Mitre 10, which is quite intense.

Lowe was outstanding against Munster last night. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It was a challenge for him and we couldn’t register him for Europe at the start as well. It’s nice for him to have got through the first season, got up to speed eventually and he had a decent pre-season as well. He’s been good.”

To put it mildly.

Lowe, as Cullen eluded to, had a stop-start debut season with the province, owing largely to his late arrival last November but also the fact he was forced to sit out key games due to the non-European player rule which only permitted two of Lowe, Scott Fardy and Gibson-Park to be involved in any given matchday squad. 

That ruling hasn’t gone away and the Nelson native has again been forced to be patient this term, but having now played four 80-minute games in the opening six rounds of the Guinness Pro14, has developed into a major asset for Leinster as he looks sharpen than ever. 

For Cullen and Lancaster, the key decisions will now be around how they can squeeze him into the Leinster side as regularly as possible, and how best to unleash his destructive X-factor at the right times. 

With Leinster opening their Heineken Champions Cup defence against Wasps at the RDS this coming Friday, Cullen was asked whether Lowe was in the mix to start the Pool 1 opener.

“Everyone is in the mix,” the head coach laughed. “That’s what you want, a nice competitive group.”

They have that, and more.

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