By Ed Elliot, PA
Native New Zealander James Lowe admits he never envisaged returning for a shot at tour success over the All Blacks when he left his homeland for Ireland.
Winger Lowe, who previously represented the Maori All Blacks, switched international allegiance under residency rules in 2020, three years after joining Leinster from Hamilton-based club the Chiefs.
The 30-year-old is part of an Irish squad on the verge of making history against the Kiwis going into Saturday’s decisive Test in Wellington.
Andy Farrell’s side will seek to secure a landmark tour triumph at Sky Stadium, having levelled the series at 1-1 thanks to a first win over the hosts on New Zealand soil last weekend.
Lowe, who was among the try scorers when the All Blacks were defeated 29-20 in Dublin last autumn, has been selected to start all three Tests and is eager to once again “knock over” the All Blacks.
“I don’t think you would be able to script that, for sure,” Lowe said of his career path.
“It was always a dream to play international rugby. To be given the opportunity in Ireland has been amazing and then to tour in New Zealand with the potential of a game-three decider, it’s an amazing opportunity and something that we’ll probably never get again.
“You don’t get to come to New Zealand very often, you don’t get to knock over New Zealand very often either, so if we can go into the summer having beaten New Zealand twice in a row then that’s huge.
“If you could tell us that at the start of the tour, we would have bitten your hand off for it.
“Obviously we created a bit of history last week but there’s also that feeling that the job’s not done so hopefully tomorrow we can put out a performance we’re proud of and walk off heads held high.”
Ireland were thumped 42-19 in the Auckland opener but bounced back to deservedly triumph 23-12 in Dunedin.
We’re on! ✊
This is the Ireland Match Day Squad for a Saturday night showdown with the All Blacks at Sky Stadium ⬇️#TeamOfUs | #NZvIRE
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) July 14, 2022
Despite the milestone result, head coach Farrell believes his side have plenty of room for improvement going into the finale.
Lowe, who is one of four New Zealand-born players in the Irish ranks alongside Bundee Aki, Jamison Gibson-Park and Joey Carbery, echoed that assessment.
“He’s hit the nail on the head,” he said of Farrell’s comments. “What needs to improve? Everything really – our shape in attack, our speed to get set, our defence, our kicking game needs to be on the money again.
“We need to put them under as much pressure as we can. Kick pressure, high ball, ruck, back entry into the ruck, they’re all the things that go a long way to winning a rugby game.
“It’s about playing in the right areas of the field. They probably controlled the first Test, we probably had the upper hand in the second, and that will be a huge decider.
“It’s been a long season – that’s never an excuse – but the boys are playing their best rugby when needed and that’s what you need when it comes to international rugby.
“Tomorrow’s going to be hugely exciting and I can’t wait for it.”
Nelson-born Lowe is hoping to cap a whirlwind few months which included his wedding in Las Vegas.
His wife, Arnica, flew over from Ireland earlier this week and the pair plan to remain in New Zealand after Saturday’s match to reunite with relatives and celebrate their marriage.
“It’s awesome to be home, to reconnect with family,” he said.
“We eloped in Vegas a few months ago and we’re having a dinner down in Nelson; we’ve hired out an Airbnb and we’re really looking forward to it.
“Hopefully the old ‘Sunshine Capital’ can turn it on for us and I can show them (wife’s family) around Nelson.”