"I was more thinking of my family. It's pretty **** they're not here" - James Lowe
We had all been waiting for November 2020 to see what Lowe could do in Test rugby. He did not disappoint.
James Lowe is one of the final batch of rugby players to benefit from the three-year residency rule that allows you to represent a country you are playing your club rugby in. That residency requirement has changed to five years now, but Lowe and Jamison Gibson Park, who qualified last year, needed just the three.
At times during a tough 2019, one wished they both could have qualified sooner. Picked up merit points along the way. Learned to made soda bread and boxty to speed up the Irish-qualified process.
Such is the strength of the Irish game now - particularly at Leinster but with Munster starting to produce the goods now and both Ulster and Connacht capable of the odd gem - that drafting in foreign aid is no longer a priority. That is not to say there will be no more foreign imports, but the need is not as pressing.
On Friday night at the Aviva Stadium, Gibson-Park and Lowe showed the rest of the country what fans of Leinster have long since known. Both of them are made of Test stuff.
Gibson Park was a serene presence behind a dominant Irish scrum and distributed the ball rapidly and with the minimum of fuss. Lowe was as abrasive and impactful in green as he has been in Leinster blue these past three years. He hared about the pitch, landed big tackles, made line breaks, offloads and looked made for the biggest stage. He had already impressed most on-lookers - at home and in the ground - when he crashed over for his obligatory try at the end of the game.
Following Ireland's 32-9 victory over a leaden, sorry Welsh out-fit, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell commented:
"You can look across the side really, people got their chances and it was about the group this week. Ronan Kelleher getting his first start, Jamison's first start. James Lowe and Billy Burns getting debuts.
"They are pleasing aspects. We’re a new group trying to get as cohesive as possible as soon as possible. That’s what international rugby is all about. Those performances, and those of Quinn Roux, Chris Farrell, etcetera, that was the most pleasing part."
For Lowe, Friday night was the culmination of three years' hard slog 20,000 kilometres from home and family in New Zealand. The 28-year-old and his girlfriend gave up their old lives, back in 2017, and have fully embraced their new life in Ireland.
Were 2020 a normal year, Lowe would have been seeking out 15 or 20 match tickets for his family and friends, ahead of his debut. As it was, the winger took his place for the anthems in a ground that had 300, tops, inside the vast expanse and with his family watching on TV back home.
Asked what was going through his head as Amhrán na bhFiann and Ireland's Call rang out, Lowe, who had his eyes closed for most of it, said:
"It's a pretty proud moment. Oh mate. I was more thinking of my family. It's pretty s*** they're not here, aye. But that's pretty much what was going through my head."
It has not always been the smoothest or straightest of paths for Lowe. In his teenage years, Lowe suffered from sore bones and serious fatigue issues. It ran on for well over a year until a doctor diagnosed it as a form of arthritis. Speaking to SportsJOE, last year, he recalled:
"It was during the summer and I was playing a lot of cricket but getting random rashes, aches and pains and getting really run down. My knee would start swelling up. Some days I couldn't walk and other days I'd be fine. It was really random and nothing they tried at the start really worked."
"There were days when I couldn't go to school or get out of bed," he added. "I had to call my dad to help get me out of bed. It was a strange time. My mum and dad thought I was taking the piss and wanted lifts to school!"
They found medicine to treat the arthritis and boost Lowe's immune system and, by 22, he was back to himself. He then started making great strides with the Chiefs, in Super Rugby, and the NZ Maoris. When it looked as though he had missed the boat with the All Blacks, he chatted with his father, Geoff, and made the tough decision to go abroad to chase his Test rugby dreams.
"It does suck that you're not there for the big occasions - Christmas and the birthdays," he told House of Rugby back in 2018, "but I'm also in Dublin, playing footy, so that's the price you've got to pay."
Having his parents, Geoff and Yvonne, and a whole clatter of family and friends at the Aviva Stadium would have made a great night even better.
Still, without them present, Lowe did what he has done for years - even before the wider world was watching - and did them all proud.
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Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts. You can catch up on all our episodes from past seasons and interviews with Conrad Smith, Victor Matfield, Simon Zebo, Sean O'Brien, Drew Mitchell, James Lowe, Conor Murray, Jean De Villiers, Finn Russell, Mike Brown, Brian O'Driscoll, Tana Umaga and much, much more.