Luke McGrath’s injury bad news for James Lowe
With Jamison Gibson-Park stepping up at No 9, Maori winger will be squeezed out
Scott Fardy drives for the line against Scarlets. The Australian lock-cum-blindside has made a huge impact at Leinster, as the likes of Nathan Hines or Brad Thorn did before him. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
James Lowe’s smile is infectious but this gifted Maori winger joined Leinster to play rugby.
“I’m not a big fan of the word talent. I reckon, a bit like Conor McGregor, man, everyone’s born equal. If you want to be good at something you’ll put the time in and see.
“Jordan Larmour didn’t come out of the womb running around like a freak, you know? For years, his hockey background I reckon, [gave him] that turn of pace all of a sudden, turn and go – that’s years of your childhood and what you’ve done there, time in the gym, time you put in outside and how selfish you have to be to be a good player.
“Talent – I don’t believe in that word.”
The positives easily outweigh the negatives with Lowe. That’s what makes the domino effect of Luke McGrath’s injury, set to deny this future Ireland winger a place in the current Leinster team, so difficult to swallow.
The reasoning is established. Scott Fardy came on the market.
Positives just about outweighing a glaring negative.
“Sucks eh?! They need to change the rule,” said Lowe after scoring two tries before his bump and offload created McGrath and Leinster’s crucial third try in this 20-13 victory over defending champions the Scarlets.
“Can we do it here? Put your hand up if you want three foreigners playing. Yeah! Alright. World Rugby, come on!
“Man, and it’s only New Zealanders and Aussies. Come on, something’s wrong there, you can’t just single us out, I don’t like it.”
McGrath’s knee injury has temporarily ended his battle with Kieran Marmion to understudy for Conor Murray during the Six Nations but the loss of Saturday’s captain all but guarantees Lowe will also be removed from Leo Cullen’s starting XV.
A European club can only include two Australians/New Zealanders in their match-day squads with other nationalities, like South Africans and Pacific Islanders, exempt under employment agreements. So, McGrath’s absence means Jamison Gibson-Park becomes Leinster’s starting scrumhalf.
Cullen could drop Fardy but the Australian lock-cum-blindside has already made a tremendous impact, almost comparable to the Nathan Hines years or Brad Thorn’s cameo in 2011/12.
Keeping Lowe on the field has obvious benefits. The 25-year-old is a world class attacker who, like Gibson-Park, is taking the Irish route towards international rugby having failed to break into the All Blacks squad.
“I’ve played with Jamo back home, we’re the same age and played New Zealand Under-20s and we both didn’t make it.
“It’s a good problem to have because you’ve got three foreigners that want to play week in, week out so it depends on the balance of the team and who comes back from internationals.
“It’s just a shame we can’t play together – I like playing with Jamo.”
There is genuine scrumhalf talent rising up the Leinster ranks but not in time to solve this conundrum. Nick McCarthy came off the bench on 48 minutes, when McGrath limped off (an ACL tear was ruled out but a scan will decide if he can return before Saracens in the Champions Cup quarter-final on April 1st at the Aviva Stadium).
Behind McCarthy is Charlie Rock while the Ireland Under-20s are promoting Belvedere’s Hugh O’Sullivan and Blackrock’s Patrick Patterson straight from last year’s schools cup final. James Kenny, Patterson’s cousin, is another prospect.
This cannot become the positive story Lowe was emphasising because it threatens to strip Leinster of his ability to link up with Jordan Larmour – again, see McGrath’s try – for scintillating results.
“Jordan reminds me of Damian McKenzie,” Lowe continued. “You just don’t know what you’re going to get. He’s a little pocket rocket, a bit stockier than Damo but, man, he’s a freak to be fair.
“He’s going to put a bloomin’ chip-kick in when the pressure’s on – come on Jordy! He’s a great kid, he’s got a good head on him and a huge future at Leinster and in international rugby.”
That would be the main story if not for McGrath’s knee.
“Imagine if we read the paper one day and it was all positives. Imagine that guys?”
Nobody would buy them.
“I would buy it!”
You’d have to buy in bulk to keep us in business.
“I’d buy them all!”
Are you going to keep smiling when you make your next big mistake?
“Always, man. Why not? It confuses everyone. ‘Shit, he’s done something wrong’ but I just smile about it anyway...I never in a million years as a 10-year-old thought I’d be playing for Leinster on the other side of the world just having fun.
“I’m in a very privileged position and I know that so I do it with a smile on my face no matter what.”
Lowe came here to play not smile in the stand. A good problem but a serious one nonetheless.