It’s all about the money

Straight-talk­ing Lowe on why he left home and gave up his All Blacks am­bi­tions

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - SPORT - By Shane McGrath

‘I STRUG­GLE IN TRAIN­ING BE­CAUSE IT CAN BE VERY VER­BAL’

AS a child, says James Lowe, he was ‘a lit­tle s***’. As an adult, he is much more like­able. Some of the hy­per­ac­tiv­ity that he says fu­elled his child­hood scrapes – ‘my teacher, ev­ery time I would start bug­ging the class she’d let me go play out­side for half an hour and then come back in’ – is de­tectable still, but it is can­dour that dis­tin­guishes a con­ver­sa­tion with the Le­in­ster winger.

The 25-year-old made his de­but for the prov­ince in De­cem­ber af­ter ar­riv­ing from the Chiefs in Su­per Rugby. He grum­bles good-hu­mouredly about the rain that turned Dublin slate-grey last week, ex­plain­ing that his na­tive Nel­son on New Zealand’s south is­land is the sun­ni­est place in the coun­try.

We’ve long known, of course, that it isn’t the cli­mate that lures play­ers from the south­ern hemi­sphere to play in Ire­land. We know, too, that one of the most com­pelling mo­ti­va­tions is money. It’s just not com­mon to hear play­ers ad­mit as much.

‘I’m re­al­is­tic,’ says Lowe. ‘I don’t come from a very wealthy back­ground or any­thing like that, so fi­nan­cially this will prob­a­bly be the smartest busi­ness de­ci­sion I’ll ever make. I’ve only got eight years, maybe, left (as a pro­fes­sional player), and then who knows? I could be in a fac­tory if I’m not smart.’

This does not make Lowe a mer­ce­nary; it makes him a pro­fes­sional ath­lete with an un­der­stand­ing of his tal­ents and, con­se­quently, his value.

Un­rea­son­able de­mands are too of­ten made of im­ports into Ire­land’s rugby sys­tem. They are ex­pected to pros­trate them­selves be­fore us, re­nounc­ing their past lives and em­brac­ing all the foibles and idio­syn­cra­sies of Ir­ish life.

These ex­pec­ta­tions are daft. Money mo­ti­vat­ing a player’s ca­reer de­ci­sions is not a sin; the clue is in that word pro­fes­sional, af­ter all. Lowe was one of the most tal­ented wingers in Su­per Rugby, but he is can­did again in re­veal­ing the rugby rea­sons for his de­par­ture from home.

‘I can catch, pass and kick and they didn’t re­ally need that on the wings,’ he says, re­fer­ring to the All Blacks’ use of pow­er­ful, straight run­ners like Ju­lian Savea on the wings when Lowe was jostling to be no­ticed.

‘They had Ju­lian to run over peo­ple. If I did stay, I reckon I would have got a cou­ple of caps but I don’t know, a cou­ple of caps? It’s cool, don’t get me wrong, a child­hood dream, but I don’t know if it would have sat pretty stay­ing there and smash­ing my­self up for 10 months of the year.’

Be­cause he is un­capped, Lowe will be­come el­i­gi­ble for Ire­land af­ter three years in the sys­tem here. By that time Joe Sch­midt will prob­a­bly be gone as na­tional coach, and his suc­ces­sor will be re­build­ing a team ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

Lowe will be 28 years of age then, too, and there is no in­di­ca­tion that play­ing in green is an am­bi­tion that blazes within him.

He is a se­ri­ous tal­ent, though, as the plain statis­tic of nine tries in 10 Le­in­ster matches so far this sea­son in­di­cates. He is not, as he con­cedes, a mus­cly at­tacker as happy to go through de­fend­ers as around them.

Speed, side­steps and elu­sive run­ning lines are more Lowe’s game.

‘Like, I’m weak as p*** in the gym, trust me,’ he says with a shrug.

‘I’m ter­ri­ble but I’m work­ing with the right peo­ple to get that sorted.’

That ar­rest­ing self­anal­y­sis is part of a hymn to the fa­cil­i­ties at Le­in­ster, where he says the ex­ten­sive ex­per­tise avail­able is help­ing him get stronger and more force­ful.

One pre­sumes Leo Cullen and Stu­art Lan­caster are sat­is­fied with the im­pres­sion he has made in his cur­rent state.

Lowe’s un­pre­dictabil­ity has raised some com­ments about po­ten­tial de­fen­sive vul­ner­a­bil­ity, but his qual­ity in attack pro­vides gen­er­ous com­pen­sa­tion for any lapses. And he is de­ter­mined to im­prove the more reg­i­mented parts of his game, he says.

‘When I first came here I re­ally strug­gled. I was talk­ing to Stu about it. Ev­ery­one here went to a nice pri­vate school, that’s pretty much it and how they’ve been taught, it’s very ver­bal, and they pick things up so quickly.

‘For me, you see me out on the train­ing ground and they’ll be do­ing drills and I have to sit out and watch it a cou­ple of times and then in my head I can do it. But if Stu just says to do some­thing I strug­gle, I have to go ask him. I’m very vis­ual.’

For a man happy to talk about his strug­gles in school, Lowe worked briefly in ed­u­ca­tion be­fore be­com­ing a full-time rugby player.

It runs against his free-spir­ited im­age to think of him in a class­room, but these cir­cum­stances were spe­cific.

‘There was a cricket coach – I ac­tu­ally went to school with his son – he was a prin­ci­pal at a nearby school and he was like, “Okay, we can take you on as a relief teacher. We’ve ac­tu­ally got this naughty kid, re­ally naughty”.

‘I couldn’t even tell you what he did but he was com­ing back in to the school sys­tem and they lit­er­ally needed a min­der with him 24/7 so he didn’t bash up other kids,’ says Lowe.

‘So I looked af­ter him. He was pretty much the same size as me as a 12-yearold. He was a huge kid. It was a bit sad. He was just from a dys­func­tional fam­ily. It wasn’t his fault. It was what he was born into. ‘So I looked af­ter him.’ That isn’t the only sur­pris­ing fea­ture of a child­hood one could have pre­sumed was de­voted to sport­ing ex­cel­lence and mess­ing.

Lowe suf­fered with rheuma­toid arthri­tis as a teenager.

‘I got it when I think I was 14 or 15. It was dur­ing the cricket sea­son; I started get­ting a rash and didn’t know what it was.

‘A cou­ple of weeks later I couldn’t get out of bed. I had a rash all over my body. Went to the doc­tor and they didn’t know what it was.

‘They did a cou­ple of tests and sent me down to some rheuma­tol­o­gist and then they were like, “Yeah, you’ve got rheuma­toid arthri­tis”.’

No longer, he re­ports, as he grew out of it even­tu­ally. But that story, like many oth­ers, is re­lated with a will­ing­ness to ac­cept that life can be a storm as well as a breeze. Lowe is, it ap­pears, a man happy to treat im­posters all the same.

That has helped in deal­ing with the reg­u­la­tion in Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion that lim­its teams to two non-Euro­pean play­ers. Le­in­ster have three: Lowe, Jami­son Gib­son-Park and Scott Fardy.

That is why con­cerns ear­lier in the week about the fit­ness of Luke McGrath were par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to Lowe and Fardy; were McGrath (left) un­fit, Le­in­ster would have to pick scrum-half Gib­son-Park, mean­ing only one of the other two would be in the squad for Satur­day’s semi-fi­nal against the Scar­lets.

Anx­i­ety over McGrath’s an­kle in­jury has eased, but Lowe is be­mused by the reg­u­la­tion.

‘I’d like to play ev­ery game that I could, don’t get me wrong, but play­ing two weeks on, one week off, it ac­tu­ally gives me a good week to re­ally nut things out, get the body right and then boom, I’ve got two weeks where I can give it my all.

‘It just sucks when it comes up to these big games and you’ve three for­eign­ers who are ea­ger to play and want to play and can’t play. It’s a bit of a shame in those terms but we’re all still happy.

‘It just sucks that that rule is in play.’

Lowe’s class should keep him safe even if Luke McGrath’s fit­ness com­pli­cates Le­in­ster’s plans this week.

He was a try-scorer in the quar­ter-fi­nal win against Sara­cens, and is re­spon­si­ble for much of the qual­ity that makes Le­in­ster’s the best back­line in Europe.

‘I’ve only been here six months but played them twice and there’s def­i­nitely a grudge,’ he says of the Scar­lets show­down.

‘It’s ex­cit­ing. It will be good to have both teams with all their in­ter­na­tion­als ac­tu­ally play­ing and hit­ting it out.’

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