Player Watch: Michael Lowry’s bright debut keeps him smiling all the way home

Ulster fullback got over for two tries and also selflessly set up one for James Lowe

Three and a half years ago in the summer of 2018, Michael Lowry joined James Hume, Dan Sheehan and Caelan Doris in helping Ireland to avoid relegation from the elite tier of the Under-20 Junior World Championship by beating Japan at the Stade Aime Giral in Perpignan.

It was the former schoolboy outhalf’s first age-grade international at fullback, press-ganged into the role because of injuries.

The quartet were reunited in the green of Ireland for the first time since then on the occasion of Lowry's senior debut in the 57-6 Six Nations Championship victory over Italy at the Aviva stadium, with the 23-year-old once again wearing the number 15 jersey.

He celebrated with two tries that could just as easily have been a hat-trick had he been a little more selfish in the 75th minute but instead elected to allow James Lowe walk-in the Leinster wing's second try of the afternoon.

That cameo offered an insight into the young Ulster fullback’s mindset. No one would have begrudged him chasing the hat-trick in that moment but Lowry’s instincts were correct in guaranteeing the try.

It is a lesson that some of his more experienced team-mates would do well to note as several succumbed to white-line fever. In the context of the game those flawed decisions are a trifling concerning, but when it matters more those failings will hopefully be superseded by a recognition that good habits make for good decisions under pressure.

Hame Faiva’s red card, the upshot of which saw Italy reduced to 13 and then for a short period at the end following Braam Steyn’s yellow card to 12 players emphatically compromised any serious analysis. Against that backdrop, Lowry can be pleased with his contribution.

A smile rarely left his lips from the moment pre-match the cameras caught him prowling inside the Irish dressingroom looking to dissipate pent-up energy in a high five slap, through standing between Sheehan and Mack Hansen for the anthems and then into the match; that sense of joy etched on his features.

There is an effervescence to the way that Lowry attacks and if Ireland had retained a scintilla of shape and discipline to that aspect of their game the fullback could have accumulated a bagful of tries. Instead he had to make do with more modest offerings, not that he’ll be sniffy about the brace he chalked up.

Nor will he complain that he didn’t receive a more rigorous test defensively. Italy tested Lowry properly only once aerially as they rather bizarrely elected to kick high balls to Lowe, a heavily flawed gambit.

It was interesting that Lowry took the role as principal chaser of scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park’s box-kicks early on from the wing position; getting the debutant involved quickly perhaps the object of that exercise.

His first meaningful contribution in Test rugby arrived at 90 seconds as he made a half-break, his second, 50 seconds later, showcased that beautiful balance and footwork as he flummoxed the first defender, leaving the Italian empty-handed on the turf.

Despite Joey Carbery’s early try, Ireland struggled for accuracy and fluency in their attacking patterns, with Lowry largely relegated during this period to clearout duties at rucks and running unfruitful trail lines, hidden in plain sight.

Faiva’s red card was followed by a try for Gibson-Park, before Lowry swapped the role of an extra for a principal character in the unfolding drama on 29 minutes.

Robbie Henshaw set up a ruck, Carbery shaped to kick but instead passed to his fullback and as Ignacio Brex thundered towards him. Lowry, with a matador's poise and a nonchalant swivel of the hips, accelerated on an outward arc that left the Italian centre floundering, throwing a subsequent dummy too to cross unopposed. His five foot seven inch frame briefly disappeared from view, engulfed by his team-mates.

Lowry beat the first-up tackler in the preamble to his captain Peter O’Mahony’s try and while his main contribution either side of the interval was an occasional involvement in aerial ping-pong, he reminded everyone of his mesmerising footwork on 50 minutes in bamboozling three Italian players. It was such a shame that he was limited to a cameo here and there.

The arrival of Johnny Sexton initially recalibrated Ireland's mis-shapen attack and it was the replacement outhalf's break and inside pass that provided Lowry with a second try. The anticipated avalanche of points never materialised, the expectations of the home side buried beneath a spiralling error-rate. Lowry's final contribution was a try-scoring assist.

It's not his fault that Ireland head coach Andy Farrell didn't learn a great deal more than he knew ahead of the game. If the team was more attuned in their patterns, less distracted by the red card, then it's reasonable to assume that Lowry, with his specific skill set in attack, could have enjoyed an even more prominent debut.

That’s not a criticism; he was sharp when called upon and should take satisfaction in a fine debut. One area in which it would have been good to see him step-in was as first receiver from phase play, perhaps one for the ‘to-do’ list down the road.

Still he'll be satisfied in emulating the achievement of the man he replaced in the 15 jersey on Sunday, Hugo Keenan, who scored two tries on debut against Italy, as a wing, in 2020. But as far as first impressions go in Test rugby, Lowry can be satisfied with his bow.

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