James Lowe right where he belongs, 11,000 miles from home 1 year ago

James Lowe right where he belongs, 11,000 miles from home

"There's only room for improvement."

James Lowe takes a seat on a blue-carpeted dais, in a tent outside Celtic Park, and proudly wears his Guinness PRO14 medal around his neck. "Hey fellas," he says as he takes a seat and shakes some hands.

Lowe arrived at Leinster in November 2017 - 11,602 miles from his family home in New Zealand - and showed pretty quickly what he was all about. He scored two tries on his debut and has scored another 19 in the 29 appearances (all wearing No.11) since.

Like Bundee Aki before him, you watch Lowe at full tilt and wonder how the All Blacks never capped him. Then you list out the names of All Blacks centres and wings over the past six or seven years and you move on, grateful that both men took the plunge and packed up in search of playing rugby at the highest level.

An injury to Luke McGrath, last season, saw Leinster select scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park ahead of him in big Champions Cup squads. Lowe was said to be gutted to miss out on last year's final in Bilbao but was fully supportive of his fellow Kiwi, Gibson-Park and gave his all in getting his teammates prepped for that victory over Racing 92.

This season, he made an iron-clad case to be undroppable. If Leinster wanted to have a chance of winning the double again, Lowe had to start.

Leinster Munster James Lowe clashes with CJ Stander during the Guinness PRO14 semi-final against Munster at The RDS. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

His duel with Liam Williams in the Champions Cup final was a compelling watch, with both lads pushing each other to the brink.One-on-one with Lowe it was pretty even, however, the Saracens man would have edged it due to a few exceptional aerial takes and his try-saving tackle and turnover on Garry Ringrose.

Lowe responded with a superb outing, and late try, against Munster in the PRO14 semi-final and he shut down the dangerous Tommy Seymour (24 metres off seven carries) while proving a handful in attack (88 metres off 12 carries, with two clean breaks).

There was a moment at the end of the match where Lowe's doggedness and desire to win was demonstrated. Glasgow Warriors had just scored a try through Grant Stewart to make it 18-15 and Adam Hastings was lining up a conversion to make it a one-point game. Lowe belted out from his tryline as Hastings started the motion of his kick.

He ended up just a few metres away - right in Hastings' eyeline - as he connected with the ball. It went right and wide.

Credit: Guinness PRO14

Did the full-court press from Lowe do enough to put Hastings off an admittedly tough kick? We may never know but Lowe was not waiting to find out.

This is the zeal that earns him so much respect in a squad full of winners.

Back in the tent, with rain beating down and the idling Leinster team bus filling up with jubilant players, Lowe [from 19:20 below] reflected that he 'couldn't be any more happy' to come away with a medal after 40+ weeks of hard work.

He paid credit to Glasgow Warriors and their head coach Dave Rennie, with whom he played under for five years, before noting that this team simply needed to get the final victory, and that it showed in their ruthless, pressing performance.

"I related it to Liverpool. Such a good team but if they don't win a trophy, they'll see it as a bad season even though they're such a good team. We learned a lot from Newcastle, we probably got stuck in fourth gear.

"Credit to Sarries obviously, putting us under enormous pressure but we learned over these last two weeks and if we didn't perform today, all of that was just talk. The fact that we were able to close it out [today] was awesome."

Rob Kearney and James Lowe enjoy the moment after Leinster's Guinness PRO14 Final win over Glasgow Warriors. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

'Nitty gritty'

That relentless pressure from Lowe and his teammates directly led to the score that spurred Leinster on in the final. Less than two minutes after Matt Fagerson had bulled over for Warriors, Leinster tore into Glasgow from the restart.

Warriors went backwards on a couple of phases, which put fullback Stuart Hogg under pressure with his clearance attempt. Luke McGrath blocked the kicked and Garry Ringrose, who could have easily dropped back in anticipation of that kick, was rewarded for his bold gamble when the ball skittered his way and he scored in the corner.

"That's the nitty gritty of the game," Lowe reflected.

"Garry Ringrose probably doesn't do all the fancy stuff but what he does do, he's got huge impacts on the game. He's got a huge future for such a young man.

"His school just bought a horse. It's called something stupid, The Fame, and it won so he's just upgraded houses. Man, he's an awesome athlete, he's an awesome dude off the pitch, one of the nicest men you will ever meet, and that's the nitty gritty that gets your over the line."

The final question brought a smile to Lowe's face as he looked down on his latest medal. That's three in just over 18 months since he flew out of New Zealand to prove himself all over again in another hemisphere.

"It's cool," he said. "If you told me three years ago that I'd be sitting here talking to you guys trying to decipher your accents, I would have called your bluff.

"But it's awesome to come over here and learn. I've still got so much to give to the game, I feel, so it's an exciting time. Where Leinster is at the moment, there's only room for improvement."