James Lowe, the New Zealand rugby star who could play against the All Blacks

James Lowe scores a try for the Māori All Blacks during an international against the Unites States. STUFF SPORTS

Like many kids growing up in New Zealand, James Lowe wanted to become an All Black.

He never considered the prospect of playing against them for another country.

And yet, Lowe is set to realise his dream of playing international rugby later this year. But not be his country of birth.

The former Chiefs and Tasman Mako winger has pledged his allegiance to Ireland after signing a three-year contract extension with Pro 14 powerhouse Leinster.

He will become eligible in November after meeting World Rugby’s three-year residency criteria and could make his international debut in a proposed eight-team tournament that includes the Six Nations teams as well as Fiji and Japan.

“I thought I was going to be an All Black when I was a teenager,” Lowe said. “Me and all my mates, there were five or six and we were going to make our test debuts together.”

The Nelson product came agonisingly close. After starring for New Zealand Māori, Lowe was in line for a dream call-up to the All Blacks when New Zealand travelled to Apia to play Samoa in 2015 but an untimely operation dashed his chances of selection.

While Lowe believed he would have played for the All Blacks eventually had he remained in New Zealand, he conceded he would never have become a 50-cap international.

So he did not leave with any regrets when he decided to take up a three-year deal with Leinster in 2017, knowing it would close the door on future All Blacks selection.

“I always wanted to play international footy and I still think, if I was lucky enough, I would have played a handful of games for New Zealand. But that didn’t really sit strong enough for me to have me stay,” he said.

“I closed that New Zealand door myself. I jumped before I was pushed, so to still be young enough that an Irish powerhouse wanted to potentially invest [in me], I was very lucky how it all panned out to come over here and play decent footy, and then to be considered in the conversation [for Ireland] is bloody awesome.

“If the opportunity does come up, like I’ve said a million times now, I’ll definitely take it with both hands and see how we go.”

Lowe, 28, has been an instant hit with Leinster, scoring 28 tries in 43 appearances to help the club win two Pro 14 titles and one European Cup crown. They were beaten in the European Cup final last season but the current campaign has been disrupted by Covid-19.

“My first year we won the European Cup and the Pro 14 in the same season, which hadn’t been done before so that was huge. Last year we lost that final against Saracens, which still haunts me a little bit. But we won the Pro 14 that year, and this year we haven’t lost yet.

“This Covid thing has put a bit of a spanner in the works, having four or five months off, but we’re back into playing games on August 22 and there’s a lot of unfinished business there.”

Lowe said life was so good on and off the field in Dublin that he gave no consideration to returning to New Zealand for another crack at the black jersey. He also spurned strong interest from clubs in France to re-sign with Leinster.

“To be honest since moving over here it’s been awesome. If you put rugby aside and the fact I do qualify for Ireland in November, if Leinster had offered me another three years putting that green jersey aside, we definitely would have stayed.


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