Six Nations 2023: James Lowe slams shut talk of France game being a decider

Dave Kilcoyne delighted to be involved again after tough time with injury last season

The ever-smiling James Lowe breezes into a converted dressingroom cum makeshift press room at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre in Abbotstown and, as ever, shoots from the hip in that carefree way of his.

He’s had injury problems and family issues which prompted a three-week return to New Zealand prior to the pre-Six Nations camp in Portugal. But you’d never have thought he was playing his first game since December and his first international of the season in last Saturday’s 34-10 win over Wales in Cardiff. His intercept, which he hasn’t stopped showing team-mates, was his seventh try in 16 Tests.

Allowing for a “30-minute purple patch” at the outset of the game, Lowe readily admits Ireland allowed Wales too much access into their 22. But he’s certainly dismissive of France being below their best in their 29-24 bonus-point win in Rome on Sunday.

“They’re a world-class side, they’ve shown it for a good couple of years. Their 9-10 combo is pretty scary, their backrow is world class, a midfield that’s pretty dangerous and a back three that would put the shivers up most teams,” said outlined.


“Individually they’ve got some pretty good firepower, so hopefully they don’t string it all together.”

He was even more dismissive of the notion that this round two meeting is a Grand Slam decider.

“Jesus ... Not really, no. It’s the second game of a Six Nations, I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, and I’m sure they’ll be saying the same things. It’s the old cliche, one game at a time, and we’ll take it like that.”

The sense of togetherness and belief running through the squad was underlined by the response in that first half-hour to the pre-match loss of Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy, in addition to Tadhg Furlong and Rónan Kelleher during the week.

“You just have to take the good with the bad, and it was heartbreaking for the likes of Jamo and Tadhg during the week being ruled out, and obviously Churchy [Healy], but the boys who were brought in to replace them played outstanding and did exactly what was needed of them in a very testing situation away from home against Wales.”

Sitting alongside Lowe was David Kilcoyne, a late addition to the bench in place of Healy, in what was his first cap since last season’s Six Nations.

Kilcoyne hadn’t known until the morning of the game that he would be on the bench.

“Paulie, on the way out of the elevator just said: ‘Are you ready, kid?’, as he does. I prepared all week as if I was being involved, so I was just ready to go.”

An abiding memory from the post-match on field celebrations was Kilcoyne’s beaming smile. Sidelined the remainder of last season, he had been through some dark times.

“I had a bad injury at the end of the Six Nations, I had to get two discs shaved in my neck. You’re out for a considerable time, you’re looking on and seeing what the team is building, what Faz [Andy Farrell] had built.

“I was chatting to Pete [O’Mahony] the other day at dinner, everyone talks about how good an environment it is here, and it’s not rubbish. It actually is a real enjoyable place to be, but that comes from the top down. Faz has got great people in, and it filters down to the players.

“Fortunately, I just put my head down, and worked away, and got myself back in. It’s where you want to be, it’s an incredible environment, and a tough task this weekend, but a great place to be.”

Next Saturday’s game is a landmark for the Munster loosehead who, like Andrew Porter and James Ryan, is in line to win his 50th cap.

Kilcoyne always retained belief that he could make it back into the squad, but he admitted it was “the worst injury I’ve ever had”, adding: “I lost power down my hand through getting those discs shaved and it was unnerving at times, wondering would the power ever come back. It was a couple of months with the great S&C and rehabs coaches down in Munster and it just wasn’t coming and wasn’t coming. Then all of a sudden it came.

“Once I saw a bit of light, I went with it and built myself back up and worked away to try get back in. So I’m feeling very fortunate to be in here.

“The saying ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone’, that really resonates with me now. You’re out of the environment through injury or selection or whatever, then when you get the second crack at it to get back in, you want to take it with both hands and make sure you’re in here as long as you can be.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times