James Lowe on Isa Nacewa: ‘He’s a god amongst men’
Winger who starred in victory over Munster could follow in footsteps of fellow New Zealander
Leinster’s Isa Nacewa is cheered off the pitch by team-mates after victory in the Pro14 semi-final. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Mr Wexford stumbles across hilarity that prompts the same roar after every one of the departing flanker’s 10 carries, “Go On Northie Murphy!”
Missing the accreditation deadline for Leinster versus Munster proves a blessing in disguise. Overflow pours the forgetful few deep into Grandstand heaven – surrounded by a plethora of Irish accents – yet close enough to hear bulging wingers bash life into each other. Andrew Conway versus James Lowe is already a duel to guarantee ructions while the hardening of Jordan Larmour happens before our eyes.
Sounds like an Ireland trio come November 2020.
Lowe is a rare creature. The trademark bump and rumble with blindfolded offload makes him a wonderfully loose talent. Conor Murray gives him aerial “nightmares” yet he became dreamcatcher in human form, floating down from the clouds, all perceptions of weakness banished.
The impact is real. Ask Simon Zebo, who twice provided speed bumps for his Maori side-step en route to Jack Conan’s try.
“Aw, it doesn’t matter who is in front of me,” Lowe smiled. “I’ve still got to run over them. They are both great players. Conway played well last time down in Thomond and again today.
“So did Zeebs. A Munster man through and through and he has a new chapter of his life coming up. He did his jersey proud, good on him.
“He’s pretty razzily, as we call it back home, good on his feet, throws nice balls.”
Lowe’s humour comes easy: “Man, is he going to Racing? Bet he’s on big money, like. Good on him.”
Presumably this 25-year-old knows his own value, but he rejected the opportunity to express disappointment about exclusion from the Champions Cup final squad.
“I’ve still got a medal so I’m pretty happy. I’ve played in a few finals and never won one so I think maybe just don’t play me in the final, eh?”
CJ Stander, Jared Payne and most recently Bundee Aki showed they are of international calibre despite being considered below All Black and Springbok standard. Same goes for Isa Nacewa in Leinster blue. That’s Lowe’s path for now: help fill the Isa void and green ambition will follow.
“There’s a very special group of men in that changing room, unfortunately probably one of Leinster’s best is going to leave us so the stars are aligned; his last game at the RDS, last game at the Aviva. Everything is to play for.”
Maybe he means Jordi Murphy or perhaps Joey Carbery?
“Everyone wants to be Isa. His name gets shouted every time he runs out on that field. If you want to do it for anyone, you want to do it for him.
“He’s our culture at the moment, he’s our talisman. I mean, he’s got one leg at the moment and still trains every week, still turns up.
“Doesn’t have to play week in, week out but when he does play he’s huge, man.”
Back in New Zealand, Nacewa was a contender much like Lowe. Real talent held short of blackness by wing specimens with Olympic pace and number eight size.
“He’s the boss. He’s pretty unlucky not to be an All Black, eh?
“Leinster is pretty lucky to have had him for so long. He retired and came back, he coached and then they got two more years out of him so he’s a god amongst men.”
Lowe brings a different character but Leinster have evidently recruited an upgraded Nacewa model. Same hardness. JJ Hanrahan failed his big test after Lowe legitimately drove the Munster outhalf up and out of a 32nd-minute ruck. Hanrahan writhed in agony before disappearing at half-time.
The last quarter, with one team guaranteed May holidays, gifted the most thrilling rugby all season. In one crazy passage Lowe out muscled Conway to clear down field. Back came Munster but Scott Fardy halted whichever South African powered towards the Leinster line (O’Mahony, Dave Kilcoyne and Niall Scannell were the only Munster-born forwards to finish with Arno Botha and Kildare’s Tadhg Beirne coming soon).
When Cian Healy coughed up a silly penalty, referee Stuart Berry signalled that the chance to convert a pressure three points was in Ian Keatley’s hands.
Not so. O’Mahony, after consulting Murray and Keith Earls, instructed the scrumhalf, and not Keatley, to kick for touch.
“They changed their decision,” Berry informed Leinster.
The score was 13-8 with 69 minutes on the clock when James Ryan denied Gerbrandt Grobler clean lineout possession before the 21-year-old hammered Murray backwards. The attack ended with Lowe’s chop tackle on Jean Kleyn allowing James Tracy to force a turnover.
Lowe took one more spectacular catch (ripping clean off Conway) as the seconds ticked down.
Clearly he has a smart rugby brain, so we seek introspective analysis.
“I’m pretty knackered man. Sorry fellas, I don’t get to play often.”