Lowe on high heading into debut Super season
From working on the back of a recycling truck to playing rugby for a living, James Lowe is desperate to make the most of his Chiefs move, writes Aaron Goile.
He was a star of this year's NPC with Tasman, and now James Lowe is itching to find out what all the fuss is about in the Chiefs environment.
Born and bred in Nelson, the 21-year-old had lived in the same house all his life until a month ago when he made the move north after landing a contract with the two-time defending champions.
Having dazzled all onlookers with his pace and try-scoring ability as Tasman won the championship and earned promotion to the premiership, the winger/fullback earned a two-year deal with the Chiefs.
Lowe and his "wonderful girlfriend", who he said sorts everything out off the field, have moved into a flat with fellow new recruit Matt Symons. Now it's about trying to replicate the slick form he displayed in the NPC, however Lowe has had to take things carefully in the pre-season as he manages an injury he sustained in August.
"I was at the bottom of a ruck and my ankle was getting twisted and pulled, so it wasn't that nice, and it's sort of just carried on from then," Lowe said.
"It's nothing too serious, I played the rest of ITM Cup on it, but it's just about trying to manage it and get it right for Super Rugby.
"There's a whole load of technical terms that I don't exactly know," he said of the diagnosis. "But I can do everything on it, that's the frustrating thing, it's just about rest and recovery at the moment."
Lowe has been mentored by Tim Nanai-Williams, who has been giving the youngster a few pointers via assistant coach Wayne Smith.
"So that's awesome. I mean, to have a guy like him, who's already played 50 games for the Chiefs, to put his hand up and say that he wants to help me. It's unreal, you can't ask for too much more," Lowe said.
Coach Dave Rennie said Lowe's attraction was the point of difference of being a big man (1.87m, 101kg) out wide.
"He's pretty explosive and powerful and so on," Rennie said. "He's got a reasonably good kicking game and has played a bit of fullback as well, which gives us a bit of flexibility."
Lowe realises he has plenty that he can be better at before he really seriously challenges the incumbents for a position, though, with his defence a particular focus.
"I didn't think I was that bad a tackler until Smithy showed me the stats, and, geez, it wasn't good! So that's also another major work-on for me. I'm excited, there's a great support team, great coaching staff around here, and I just can't wait to get better and get into the season."
Having gone through the junior grades in Nelson and then on to the Waimea Old Boys Club, Lowe made his NPC debut for Tasman last year, but midway through the season he was knocked out in a match against Southland, which he said ruined his chances of progressing.
"I was out for about a month, a month of doing absolutely nothing. And then over the off-season I realised I want to make something of it and I want rugby to be my fulltime job, so that's when I sort of kicked into gear and did some serious training. It does show that hard work pays off."
Lowe "dabbled in a lot of things" after finishing school. Having enrolled at Teacher's College, he had to give that up due to rugby commitments, before landing a job at Nelson Intermediate School looking after kids who needed guidance, even making sure they got to and from school.
"That was a bit of an eye-opener seeing these kids and trying to help them and get them on the right track so they don't just become a statistic," he said.
Then, for fitness reasons, Lowe started working on the back of a recycling truck, where he would run for about eight hours of the day.
"That was also another eye-opener, seeing how much rubbish goes around. But it was awesome, it was definitely something I'd recommend to other people. Days go by, just like that, you're out in the open all day, it's an awesome job."
Now, the self-confessed "proud Nelson and Tasman man" can't wait to get back home and see family and friends during the Chiefs' 16-day break.
"I'm excited to go home after all this hard work that's been done, just hopefully I come back in the same nick I leave in.
"Not too many festive brews. I mean, you do have to enjoy yourself, but to a certain extent. You pay to be a professional athlete and you know the dos and don'ts, you know when enough's enough. So there will be a few beverages but nothing too overwhelming."