JAMES LOWE BOUNCED into the press room after training on a wet, dirty day at the RDS.
‘Phew! Some craic out there,” he says with a fresh dry t-shirt that is at odds with the freezing air within the old walls.
He’s so close to his first competitive rugby of 2019 he can taste it.
The explosive New Zealander has not played since picking up a red card during Leinster’s inter-pro loss to Munster in Thomond Park.
The subsequent two-match suspension kept him from facing Ulster and Toulouse, and then the ‘two-foreigner’ rule meant he lost out to Jamison Gibson-Park and Scott Fardy for last weekend’s win over Wasps.
This week, it’s Fardy who is rested up for tomorrow’s visit of Scarlets [KO 7.35pm, eir Sport/TG4] and Lowe returns to add his inimitable threat to Leinster’s backline.
“I’m looking forward to it, Leo picked me this week,” he jokes, with a nod to the Cotonou Agreement which has limited his involvement.
The fault is in part of his own making too, of course, but he is keen to move on from the ugly aerial clash with Andrew Conway in Thomond.
“I’ve gone up for the ball a thousand times and this was the one I got wrong.
“There was no malice or intent. They (his team-mates) saw how much I hurt in the changing room afterwards. It had a huge impact on the game. It’s water under the bridge now, once I don’t do it again tomorrow night.”
The run without a chance to expend his energy in competitive action can only have been incredibly frustrating for Lowe, a man who shows his enjoyment for the game so visibly with every on-field action.
Training and preparing the starters for European action has kept him sharp, however.
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“It’s the nature of the beast. I had a good time. Still trained every single day and got flogged when the guys were playing. Not quite an extended holiday. I’m just glad to be out there, it’ll be good to put a jersey on and run around the RDS.
Lowe and Leo share a joke. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
“It’s an exciting challenge, an exciting prospect. Scarlets are a very good attacking team. So we’ll be under pressure on our edges in our defence. It’s one of those things you look forward to.”
Lowe will play in the back three alongside Rob Kearney who, along with Jack McGrath, has remained with his province to get game-time under their belt ahead of the Six Nations.
With Ireland in camp and Dan Leavy still not in full team training, the presence of a youthful back row, half-backs and centre means Kearney and McGrath are an added bonus as Cullen’s side look to put a 25-point cushion between them and last year’s beaten finalists in Pro14 Conference B.
“The experience is huge,” says the head coach, “looking through the team, there’s a lot of young guys — back row and half-backs in particular — so to have that experience scattered around the rest of the team was important for us. It’s a great chance for them in front of a big crowd.
“(This team) have worked hard in the short time that we have had, beginning with training on Monday,” added Cullen, who had his team in Coventry facing Wasps on Sunday.
“We started the week as early as we possibly could to get into it and be aware of the substantial threats Scarlets pose. They have a few players away on international duty but they have a settled core who are very dangerous.
“We need to make sure we’ve done everything this week, with the time that we’ve had, to give ourselves the best chance.”
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