Stuart Lancaster has no doubt that James Lowe is back to his best and ready to return to the Irish team which faces Italy this Sunday if selected.
The 29-year-old winger marked his first game in five weeks with a superb long-range finish in his near half-hour off the bench against the Ospreys last Saturday night, thus demonstrating he had fully recovered from the hamstring injury which ruled him out of Ireland’s opener at home to Wales and the trip to Paris.
It was Lowe's 37th try in 59 games for Leinster, and Lancaster said: "To come back and provide the energy that he always does, but also show that he is back to full pace and power was pleasing."
Lancaster believes that Lowe has “matured a lot” in his four and a half seasons in Irish rugby.
“He came across from New Zealand and he had amazing natural talent, and his infectious personality immediately made him stand out as a popular member of the group and also for the crowd as well, and the energy he brought to the team.
“But what he’s really developed is his work off the field on his work off the ball actually. His attention to detail now is excellent. He has a very good understanding of the game. Often if I’m in a meeting and I ask an open-ended question he always knows the answer from any position.
“We all know what he can do with the ball in hand but top end international players need to be good in the air, good defenders, good in the backfield, good at kicking and these are all areas that perhaps he hadn’t really considered when he first arrived.
“But he definitely knows about them now and he’s worked hard on those areas. I think all the hard work came off in the November internationals and particularly the New Zealand game which was obviously a big game for him.”
Having proved his international quality, Lancaster said the challenge for Lowe now was to stay ahead of those vying for his place “and if he gets an opportunity this week to play well, do the basics well but also bring that X-factor that we know he’s got.”
Jimmy O’Brien’s call-up means that Leinster provide four of the outside backs in the Irish squad and Lancaster said of the versatile 25-year-old: “Consistently good would be the phrase I would use. He is consistently good, he is not just consistent.”
Citing O’Brien’s greater confidence and multi-positional abilities, Lancaster added: “I do run him at 10. I would be happy to play him at 12 or 13. He has played on the wing and obviously he is excellent at 15 as well.
“He has got the ability to be a very good all-round footballer. He has obviously got his left boot, he’s fast – he has got proper top end speed and he’s good speed endurance as well. He’s a bit like Hugo [Keenan].
“You put that package together, bravery, intelligence, confidence now that has grown over the course of the last three or four years that I coached him.
“He used to be quite quiet and it’s quite a hard place to come into, Leinster, if you’re a young player trying to make a mark,” said Lancaster, also citing the similarly upward graph of Ciarán Frawley and Keenan, in becoming a “trusted member of the senior squad”.
“He fully, fully deserves his call-up, for sure,” added Lancaster, who believes that fullback is probably O’Brien’s best position.
Leinster meet the Lions for the first time at the RDS this Friday (7.35pm) and Lancaster said: “They’re probably the most adept of the South African teams to come to the northern hemisphere in February because they’re very much a power-based team: strong scrum, big maul, direct ball carriers.
“So I think of the South African teams to come up in February, I think they’ll pose a big threat for us if we don’t get our basics right. They’re a typical South African team in that regard.
“We need to be matching them in the physical stakes but still play the type of Leinster rugby that we like to play. Just be a bit more accurate than we were against Ospreys.”