‘First in, last out’ – The rise of Ulster’s ‘old head on young shoulders’ Lowry


Michael Lowry
Lowry’s try was the highlight of Ulster’s 57-21 Challenge Cup win over Harlequins
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens Date: Saturday, 10 April Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Live score updates on BBC local radio and on the BBC Sport website

From the moment Harlequins announced a largely second-string team, Ulster’s Challenge Cup last-16 tie lost whatever glamour it had to begin with.

The province easily did what they had to do at The Stoop, but their win was less a classic blood-and-thunder European tie and more a cakewalk that was never in doubt.

In such a contest, particularly without a crowd, even a rugby purist might struggle to be compelled by what they are seeing.

Ulster did not need Michael Lowry’s sensational try, but the spectacle did. The six seconds between Lowry gathering a high ball on halfway and sliding in at the corner injected a buzz into the game and drew eyes to The Stoop.

It was a score that married rugby instinct with the lightning-fast processing of the experience that 22-year-old Lowry has already amassed in his professional career.

“The space just opened for me once I hit the ground. You usually expect to get absolutely smashed in that situation, but once I was through I backed my instinct to go on the outside,” Lowry says.

“I know from defending at full-back now, how hard it is to turn and go when you’re static against someone who’s running at full pace.

“It’s as hard as if you’re racing somebody and they get a 10m head start.”

Talk of where Lowry sees his future, whether at fly-half or full-back, may never end. Unsurprisingly, the man himself is non-committal on the subject and instead insists he is just happy to be playing.

Fly-half is, he has admitted, his first love. It is where he made his name in a hugely successful schoolboy career and then in the academy, but since rising to the senior side the majority of his 41 caps have come at full-back.

In Lowry’s book, the move is not frustrating but a chance to master two skillsets.

“It definitely helps to get involvements in squads, having the ability to play in a couple of positions,” he says.

“You do have to work that wee bit harder, because you have to cover what your 10 skills are and what your full-back skills are, so you’re probably going to have to do a wee bit more to cover those skills.

“Having that versatility stands you in good stead to make squads for those games you want to be involved in.”

‘First one in, last one out’

The aim is not to survive at full-back until the chance to play 10 on a regular basis presents itself, but to thrive in either at any given time.

“Scoring that try isn’t a stroke of luck, it’s hard work that has went in by him and learning how to play 15 a lot more,” says team-mate Stuart McCloskey.

Inquiries into Lowry’s character yield similar responses from all of his team-mates. He is, by all accounts, an immensely hard worker.

The ‘first one in, last one out’ mantra is used almost without fail when his name is put to his peers at Ulster, so much that it stops becoming a cliche and instead indicates a notable work ethic.

The 22-year-old is already a vocal presence in Ulster’s dressing room

“His work-rate is incredible, he’s probably one of the first in and last out every day. He’s constantly just working away on stuff you don’t see,” says prop Eric O’Sullivan, who graduated from the academy alongside Lowry.

“When I first came up and was with the academy, he was just out of school and was phenomenal.

“He moved so well back them, so fast and obviously he still has that.”

For Lowry himself it is a case of an old adage ringing true; he is controlling the controllables.

“I always think what you put into something is what you get out of it; one thing you can always go back to is you’re attitude,” he says.

‘A team full of Mikey Lowry’s’

The appreciation of staying on top of what he can control perhaps stems from the fact that he is, unlike many of his team-mates, not blessed with the natural size that can handsomely contribute to a player’s on-field prowess.

At 5’5″ he has never been afforded the luxury of relying on size to get him through a collision.

In a game of bigger, faster, stronger, Lowry has had to find his own way to compete. According to team-mates, his tackling and jackling are held up as among the most technically sound in the Ulster camp.

Hits on soon-to-be team-mate Leone Nakarawa and more recently former Wales centre Jamie Roberts would suggest as much.

Michael Lowry
Lowry’s accounts for being a smaller player by placing an enhanced emphasis on tackling technique

“I think the way rugby’s going it would be tough to have a full team of Mikey Lowry’s playing, but having one of them is something that’s an extra spark,” says McCloskey.

“He can beat you in a phone booth, he can get round you and he’s got a great kicking game. Obviously he’s worked on stuff under the high ball so he’s not a target for teams now.”

As his stock rises, so too will calls to see him in Irish green before long. If Ireland’s summer tour of the Pacific Islands goes ahead, Lowry may well find himself in the mix with a number of senior players unavailable due to Lions involvement.

Whether he gets the call up on not, you suspect Lowry will not allow himself to get too up or down.

He is, says, McCloskey “an old head on young shoulders”, and already a leader inside a dressing room that he is set to play a key role in for the foreseeable future.

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