MICHAEL LOWRY: From young pretender to Tiger Tamer

Ulster's Michael Lowry is hauled down illegally by Leicester's George Ford
Ulster's Michael Lowry is hauled down illegally by Leicester's George Ford
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It looked like a huge call from the Ulster management when rookie Michael Lowry was named in the starting XV to face Leicester Tigers in a European Champions Cup opening pool game on Saturday night.

One senior Ulster cap to his name, the former RBAI Schools’ Cup winner was thrown in at the deep end.

And in the early stages it looked as the 20-year-old was in for a difficult night playing out of position at fullback (he is more natural at outhalf).

Bad enough that conditions were dreadful with a swirling wind and incessant rain falling at Kingspan Stadium, the wily Tigers targeted the youngster with high ball after high ball.

He dropped the first and second, but Lowry shook himself down and secured a brilliant high ball at the next opportunity and won the penalty as well.

Then he showed why he is highly rated in the Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy.

A lovely break saw him pin the ears back and it looked if a dream Euro debut was on the cards as he charged towards the try line.

All Tigers outhalf George Ford could do was tackle him highly three metres from the line.

The yellow card was brandished, but no penalty try.

However, the Tigers had been tamed and Lowry never looked back.

Head coach Dan McFarland hailed him a “brave young man”.

“It was not a big call (to start him), you make a decision around if you think a player has got the ability to play and improve your side.

“The guys know Michael well and I know him well from what I have seen off him so far.

“He is an exciting player, he is a confident player he is a really good footballer with great skills.

“The way we wanted to play, keeping the ball in play would have suited him. You have to have a certain amount of trust in terms of what he is going to do as the fullback’s job.

“One thing we can certainly say about Michael Lowry, he is a brave young man!”

To add to his big night, Lowry was ushered up to the post match press conference and took his place beside captain Rory Best at the top table.

To put him at ease, the experienced captain, when asked about the performance of the cub, said: “He did alright, didn’t he?”

“The frightening thing with Michael is that my Ben is closer in age to him than he is to me. I think it shows the calibre of him.”

“We know how talented he is but we knew that he was going to be targeted. He comes back from that and won a class penalty on a 50/50 ball that he just said was going to be his.

“Some of these young guys, we don’t expect them to be perfect but we expect to see that attitude and he showed that in spades. Some of his handling out wide in what were really tough conditions is testament to him.”

The final word goes to the rising star.

Lowry said: “Obviously it was an amazing experience. Going back to last year I never would have thought I would have been in this position and playing alongside British and Irish Lions.

“It was an incredible experience and didn’t really sink in until I was on the pitch and once you’re on the pitch it’s just a game of rugby at the end of the day.

On the high tackle denying the try he added: “I should have just pinned my ears back. John Cooney was nipping away in my ear saying ‘give it to me’.

“We got a penalty out of it and a yellow card but it was, yeah, disappointing not to get over.”