‘My defence was something that let me down, hence why I got dropped.’
James Lowe believes he has now “figured out” how to operate in the defensive framework prevalent in the northern hemisphere, after coming under criticism for his defensive abilities last season.
New Zealand-born winger Lowe made his international debut for Ireland against Wales in November last year, and made a promising start to his Test career, scoring a try in the final minute of play in that game.
Lowe has won five more caps for Ireland since then, and while he has often impressed with ball in hand, his defence has let him down at some crucial moments.
The Leinster and Ireland winger was speaking as a Zurich and Tackle Your Feelings ambassador and revealed that he has been working “ridiculously hard” to improve his defensive abilities in the off-season.
James Lowe on working ‘ridiculously hard’ to improve in defence.
“I was absolutely stoked to make my international debut for Ireland. It’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” Lowe started.
“To have this opportunity, unfortunately not in front of friends and family with an empty stadium, but I was absolutely stoked. In my first Six Nations, I was happy with how I performed.
“The things that I’m good at I was really good at when I needed to be. But my defence was something that let me down, hence why I got dropped for the last test. That’s the nature of professional rugby.
“I’ve been working ridiculously hard to improve that, to understand it better, to make quicker, better decisions under pressure. I’m looking forward to another season to keep improving and put my best foot forward come the November test series.”
Differences in defensive frameworks in New Zealand and Ireland.
Lowe has played most of his rugby in New Zealand and first played for the Chiefs in Super Rugby at the age of 21, before moving across the globe to join Leinster in 2017.
Super Rugby typically produces more high-scoring games than club games in the northern hemisphere, which has led to questions over the quality of defence that exists in the tournament.
While there is certainly an emphasis on attacking in countries such as New Zealand and Australia, Lowe believes the notion that defences in the south are worse than in the north is largely a myth.
“I think that’s a myth. It’s hard [to say]. Rob Kearney actually came back from Australia and was like, ‘Look, they play on dry tracks with a dry ball every single day. So, they all want to run with the ball.’,” Lowe explained.
“You could shape it any way you want. You also defend differently in New Zealand, it’s just a different style of game.
“I was a product of my own environment and I’ve come over here and have tried to learn, not a different defensive system, but learn different mechanics of how to work inside a different framework.
“I actually think I’ve figured it out now. I’m really looking forward to games around the corner to be able to showcase that.”
James Lowe on dealing with external criticism.
The 29-year-old was criticised heavily in the media following some defensive mistakes in an Ireland jersey in both the Autumn Nations Cup and Six Nations, which led to opposition tries.
Lowe was trusted by head coach Andy Farrell to start in four consecutive Six Nations games, but he was dropped for the championship’s final game against England after his defensive abilities were again found wanting against Scotland.
While getting dropped has spurred the Leinster winger on to improve in defence, he admitted that he rarely takes heed of external criticism from either recognised pundits or supporters on social media.
“I’m not going to lie, I don’t read or watch too much when it comes to any sport. There’s only a certain amount of people who can really rattle me and if I don’t have their name or number in my phone then it doesn’t really bother me,” Lowe said.
— TYF (@TYFIreland) August 25, 2021
“But I wasn’t always like this. When I was a young professional coming in it didn’t matter who you were, if you said anything about me in any paper or on any social media I was looking for it.
“You took the good with the bad. Some days you were up and some days you were down. That’s rugby. That’s the professional environment. If you don’t perform, people talk about you.
“But now I’ve got a strong understanding and I don’t care. It took me a lot of time to work at that, to get to the stage that I’m at now. But like I said, I wasn’t always like this. This was an evolution process of talking to different people who I knew I trusted to get to where I am now.
James Lowe on his favourite matches.
Lowe has been involved in some incredible games on both sides of the hemisphere, in a professional career in which he has played for Tasman, the Chiefs, the Maori All Blacks, Leinster and Ireland.
While it must be difficult to choose just a few favourite games from a senior career that has so far spanned nine years, two games do stand out in Lowe’s mind.
The Chiefs’ game against the Stormers in the 2017 season of Super Rugby and the Maori All Blacks’ game against the British and Irish Lions are two of Lowe’s favourites, and interestingly, he was on the losing end for both encounters.
“I actually really enjoy Cape Town and playing the Stormers there. I actually remember that game. There were two [incredible] tries,” Lowe commented.
“[Dillyn Leyds] literally picked the ball up when he was sitting down and he threw a 30 metre, spiral bullet out the back door to a winger who sprinted 60 metres and scored. It was ridiculous.
“For the Chiefs, we actually scored a really good try in that game as well. Damien McKenzie started it off and we were literally running up a 10-metre channel from our try line.
“There were like six or seven different people who had it off a counter-attack. We went the whole length and scored. Tony Pulu scored it, who actually plays for the Western Force now. That was definitely up there.
“Another favourite of mine was probably getting spanked by the Lions in Rotorua with the Maori All Blacks. That was cool because I was playing against a lot of people who I knew I’d end up playing with.
“[Johnny] Sexton was at 10 that day, Conor Murray was at nine, Tadhg [Furlong] was propping. There’s a lot of cool games along the way. I remember the bad ones as well but we won’t talk about them.”