Nelson's James Lowe could be poised to make his starting debut for the Chiefs on the wing at Waikato Stadium on Friday night, but it has taken a lot of hard work.
Lowe, 21, was sensational for Tasman in last year's national provincial championship but faced a steep learning curve when he arrived at the Chiefs at the end of last year.
''It's been tough because the quality of outside backs [here] is up there with the best, so I've just got to make sure I bide my time and train just as hard as everyone else so I can put my hand up,'' Lowe said.
The return this week from injury of Gareth Anscombe and Tom Marshall had just upped the level of competition for places in the Chiefs' outside backs.
But the big wing/fullback, who played for New Zealand Schools in 2010, said he had revelled in the professional training environment within the Chiefs and was now lighter, fitter and faster than ever.
''I guess I've learnt a lot about myself - how hard I actually can push myself. They've got the recovery facilities here so that you can push yourself hard.
''I've dropped a fair bit of weight, my skinfolds have gone down and my rugby IQ has gone up so everything is going in the right direction.''
At 1.87 metres tall, Lowe is down to a playing weight of 99-100kg.
''This time last year I was about 108 so I was a fairly big boy trying to run around and in ITM I was about 103 so I think I've found my ideal playing weight.
''There's one way to get faster and that's to get skinnier. It was the hard way to do it but it paid off,'' Lowe said.
The family-like atmosphere within the Chiefs had also helped him fit in.
''It's been awesome, to be fair. It's definitely the best environment I've ever been in.
''I had my parents up and they were astounded by how many people came over and introduced themselves. It's something we're not really used to,'' he said.
So far Lowe has come off the bench in both the Chiefs' opening wins.
''I was on a bit earlier than expected against the Crusaders with Mils [Muliaina] going down and then another 20 minutes last week, so I've just got to keep putting my hand up and working hard throughout the week and hopefully more minutes will come.''
He had been a ''ball of energy'' off the bench against the Highlanders and was happy with what he achieved, but said his approach if he got a start this week would be subtlety different in terms of being mentally prepared to play from the start and play 80 minutes.
The Stormers would provide Lowe with his first taste of rugby against South African opposition after playing Kiwi teams containing players he had come up against at provincial level.
''They're a lot more physical, combative sort of people, they maul, they drive a lot and it's going to be interesting.
''I've never played against such a physical team but it's something you've got to learn and grow up with, don't you,'' Lowe said.
- Waikato Times
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