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17th Feb 2018

Rugby is a much better game to watch when James Lowe plays

Jack O'Toole

There are certain people in life that can walk into a room and instantly make that room better by just being there.

James Lowe could be one of those people, at least judging by what his Leinster teammates have to say about him, but he’s also that type of player that benefits any game he plays.

It’s not that Lowe is the best winger in the world, or even the best winger in Ireland given the form that Keith Earls has been in over the last two months, but he has this enthusiasm for rugby that shines through the screen and lights up any room where people are watching him.

The New Zealander scored two tries in Leinster’s 20-13 win over the Scarlets on Saturday and set up Luke McGrath for a score with a brilliant offload just after the restart.

Lowe has shown his offloading skills all season and tore Connacht to shreds last month with his ability to release the ball in the tackle, but while his handling skills are well documented, he had scored just one try since his brace on debut against Treviso in December.

One from four is not necessarily a bad return for a winger, but Lowe is a player that scored 11 tries in 16 games in his final season of Super Rugby with the Waikato Chiefs, a notable improvement from the season before where he crossed the line seven times in 14 games.

Suffice to say, Lowe is a good finisher, and on Saturday against the Scarlets he showed the best of both worlds, showing strength and determination to finish two tries in the same corner, while also assisting McGrath with a sublime pass in what was essentially the match winning score.

There are still question marks about his defence at times, but nobody seems like there having more fun on a rugby pitch than James Lowe.

He barks and barks and barks. He slaps backs. He high fives teammates. He gives a shit. He backs himself. And he does it all with a smile.

The advances and increased emphasis on strength and conditioning in rugby over the last decade, combined with mirrored increases in media training, can at times make the sport feel like a game of human car crashes followed up car crash interviews.

It’s the biggest criticism from the casual fan, and while the purist will always find enjoyment from the game and all of its finer intricacies, of which there are many, Lowe resonates with almost everyone watching; from the kid, to the hardcore fan, to the casual supporter and to the media.

It can be refreshing to see a guy rove around the pitch looking for work. A guy that can set a game alight with an offload or a pass, and a guy that shows a bit of emotion when he scores.

Lowe elicits similar levels of enjoyment from watching the likes of former Wales winger Shane Williams or former England captain and World Cup winner Jason Robinson in years goneby.

Lowe does not have the same instant acceleration or footwork of either Williams or Robinson, but there is an heir of unpredictability about what might happen next when he gets the ball that is reminiscent of the aforementioned during their primes.

The 25-year-old has immediately emerged as a fan favourite among Leinster fans, and while five tries in six games will certainly endear any rugby player towards their club’s supporters, Lowe has a set of intangible characteristics that make you enjoy watching the game when he plays.

He excels at all the attributes that fans like to see, and as much as he’s a fine rugby player with a list of skills that consistently helps his side, he’s an entertainer.

Hearing his teammates, both young and old, talk about the impact that he’s had and the character he is around Belfield leads me to believe that he’s made the Leinster dressing room a better room to be in.

Watching him play with such joy, enthusiasm and freedom on a rugby pitch, I know that he’s made the sport a better game to watch.

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