Michael Lowry has to pinch himself, just two years ago he was playing schools rugby for RBAI he’s now firmly established in the Ulster set-up and has been one of the breakout stars this season.
He’s making up for lost time, his first year in the Ulster Academy was a washout due to a groin injury. But fully fit and with a new head coach in town, Dan McFarland, he was elevated into the senior set-up and thrown in at the deep end – a substitute appearance against Munster at the end of September was followed by his first start in Ulster’s Heineken Champions Cup opener against Leicester Tigers two weeks later. Having played at flyhalf growing up, he also had to contend with a new position – full-back.
Lowry says Jacob Stockdale’s words of advice helped him settle into his new role. “I made a mistake in the Leicester game and he was the first one over saying ‘forget about it, there is going to be mistakes, especially on high balls and all sorts of chaos there’.”
Asked by RugbyPass at a Kingspan Ulster Rugby media event in Dublin what kind of lessons he’s learned from the Ireland winger he said “I just think being really calm all the time and just playing with a smile on his face as well. You see him when he is scoring tries, he is always just happy. I think as a back three there is nothing better than just enjoying yourself, because if you are worrying about it too much, or thinking about carries and contacts, it is not going to be that useful.”
Weighing in at 82kg (having begun the season at 79kg) and just shy of 5 foot 6 inches (1.7m), Lowry has had to punch above his weight, dealing with multiple comments from people that he wouldn’t make it in the professional game.
“There was a few times that I’ve been told I’m not big enough, I’m not strong enough, but I think it’s not what people think, it’s proving your actions on the pitch and thankfully I did that in school. It was a big thing through school maybe that I wouldn’t make it or that I wouldn’t play professional rugby at all. That gave me motivation to go on and do it.”
“It does go through your head sometimes that ‘maybe they are right, maybe I am not big enough or strong enough’, but I think using it to your advantage is something you can do and it is a massive motivator to come through that and brush it off and try to be the best I could be”
Lowry certainly hasn’t been short of inspiration when it comes to proving doubters wrong.
“I have looked at Cheslin Kolbe obviously a lot and the likes of Matthew Morgan and Damian McKenzie. He’s what 75 kilos or whatever and he’s unbelievable. It is players like that, that you look up to and think it’s fine to play rugby at this kind of size.”
The 20-year-old has learned to embrace his build among the many sizeable behemoths he comes up against.
“It’s a wide variety of different players and you have to use your attributes to your advantage, so when you are smaller you can duck through tackles!
“It’s such a wide variety of game that I think there are definitely aspects you can look at through the game that it works to your advantage.”
While Lowry’s performance against Leicester Tigers was impressive, he was catapulted into the limelight in his second Champions Cup game, away at Racing 92, when their full-back Simon Zebo taunted Lowry as he raced in for a try.
“At the time I didn’t think much of it at all, I still don’t think much of it and when Simon came over and apologised I just said ‘don’t worry about it, it’s just a game of rugby’ and that is exactly what I was thinking it’s just a game of rugby. Watching him when I was growing up playing for Ireland and the Lions et cetera, I never would have thought I would be playing against him.”
“Although the incident happened I think I was just so honoured to play against the likes of him, there are so many stars for that Racing team it was just pretty awesome. Although after that incident happened I went into the changing room and my phone and social media went absolutely crazy. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, I was just playing rugby, I wanted to get involved as much as I can.”
He’s now one of the first names on the Ulster teamsheet and with a crunch PRO14 quarter-final against Connacht to come it’s a chance to lay to rest the heartache of their Champions Cup quarter-final defeat.
“We are really hurting after that European quarter-final against Leinster and I think that has made us more hungry for success and to be competing in these cups and it’s something that we will look towards with a lot of positivity going from that quarter-final, there is a lot we have learned from it and I think it will stand us in good stead going into this quarter-final and we are really looking forward to it.”
Watch: Jordi Murphy discusses life after Leinster and the motives behind his move north.
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