Leinster outhalf Ross Byrne received the man-of-the-match medal principally for a flawless kicking performance in his team's 30-22 victory over Munster at the Aviva stadium last weekend but the player with arguably the game defining impact was his teammate James Lowe; the shorthand version, two tries and a seminal role in his team's third, a penalty try, which carried a double tariff for Munster as Keith Earls received a yellow card.
The 26-year-old Lowe was involved from the opening seconds of the contest when he caught Munster outhalf Joey Carbery’s kick-off to a final intervention, when losing the ball forward in a tackle from replacement scrumhalf Duncan Williams. His impact on the game is defined by 23 moments, the vast majority (17) that took place in the opening 40 minutes.
Considering that Leinster had just 35 per cent of possession and 32 per cent of territory it accentuates the quality of his contribution. According to the official Opta statistics, Lowe scored two tries, carried the ball 11 times for 53 metres – a little less than a third of the team’s overall total and more than twice the number of metres of the next best individual contribution in a blue shirt. He is credited with three offloads and two clean breaks, making eight passes and one tackle.
The last figure is an interesting one in that he doesn't appear to be credited for his part in a double-tackle that prevented Munster centre Dan Goggin from scoring a try or in assisting as the second player in to lasso CJ Stander in the second half.
It's unlikely to have been for a thumping hit on his former teammate Carbery a fraction of a second after referee Ben Whitehouse called back play for an earlier infringement or in shunting Sammy Arnold over the touchline as the Munster centre put through a grubber kick. The tackle in question may have been one on Andrew Conway.
The official Pro14 statistics credit him with five tackles in four matches, something that his teammate Josh van der Flier might accumulate in one sequence of play.
The New Zealander has started four of Leinster’s six Guinness Pro14 matches this season to date and while last Saturday’s reports deservedly earned him rave reviews, the quality of his contribution in the other matches is equally impressive, highlighting his excellent form.
Lowe scored tries in the defeat to the Scarlets and the victory over Edinburgh. He averages 72 metres per game with a high of 102 metres against Connacht, the only contest so far in which he didn’t dot down, and carries the ball on average 11.75 times per match. It works out at a little over six metres per carry.
There is a cavil that fullbacks and wings get to chew up easy metres on kick returns but the majority of Lowe’s contributions take place in more cluttered corridors of the pitch.
His involvement against Munster encompassed his aerial prowess, prodigious left footed kicking, strength in and through the tackle and offloading but it was his clear-eyed ruthlessness in finishing off what were half chances that made a massive difference to the outcome. Great players render what appears ridiculously difficult, almost routine or casual in the maelstrom of a match.
That was evident in his two tries and thumping clearances, one of which he sent 60 metres plus down the pitch from a starting point of a metre from the touchline. There were rare errors, a missed tackle, a kick charged down by Arnold, a spilled ball taking a return pass from Robbie Henshaw and another when looking to work the short-side with Luke McGrath from a scrum late on.
Munster managed to keep Lowe a little quieter after the interval (six involvements in play), although that is relative given that he scored his second try during that period, an effort that showed athleticism and presence of mind; there was nothing wrong with Munster secondrow Jean Kleyn’s tackle and it would have sufficed to stop most other players.
An injury to the in-form Jamison Gibson-Park means that Leo Cullen's traditional selection headache of picking two from the scrumhalf, Scott Fardy and Lowe under the foreign players' rule – the latter through expediency lost out at times last season – won't be a factor this weekend for Leinster's opening match in defence of the newly titled, Heineken Champions Cup against Wasps at the RDS on Friday evening.
The challenge for Lowe is to maintain the lofty standard in performance terms; what looks the more difficult assignment is for opponents to negate that influence, something that no team has managed to date this season.