Paris: Bedridden as a teenager with rheumatoid arthritis, James Lowe has taken an unlikely route to lining up for Ireland against his native New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals on Saturday.
The exuberant 31-year-old winger is fit to face the All Blacks after recovering from an eye injury he suffered in the first half of the 36-14 drubbing of Scotland last Saturday.
However, such discomforts are mild by comparison to when, aged 14, he was diagnosed with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, which began with a “small rash.”
“I’d be in remission for three months and then back in bed for three months. Back to square one,” he said.
Things improved radically once he was given a new drug, which he injected himself with twice a week until his early 20s.
Bad things happen to good people
“I learned then that life is a little unfair — bad things happen to good people and it is how you deal with it,” he said.
Judging by his career since he came to Ireland in 2017 — persuaded to do so by his good friend Jamison Gibson-Park, who also starts on Saturday and who had made the move to Leinster a year earlier — he has dealt with it extremely well.
Lowe came closest of the two to playing for the All Blacks, although his sole opportunity was ruined when a shoulder injury ruled him out of a Test against Samoa.
His non-selection became a bit of a running joke among the Irish squad when both Gibson-Park and Lowe got called up in 2020, benefiting from the then three-year residency rule, which has now been extended to five years.
‘Here to stay’
Never one to hide his feelings or hold back on his opinions, Lowe did express surprise at the possibility he could end up in a green jersey.
“It’s weird that I could be Irish, isn’t it? Like, it is weird,” he said in 2019.
Characters, though, like Lowe are welcome in Ireland head coach Andy Farrell’s squad — the Englishman describes Lowe as a “free spirit”.
Farrell also kept the faith with Lowe, whose defensive ability was criticised by many but the player reacted positively, writing a journal on everything to do with his life.
“It’s a great way to reflect and understand why you feel certain ways,” he said in February this year.
“I found that my happy-go-lucky attitude was a bit to do with why it (his defensive skills) didn’t progress as quickly as it should have, but I feel like I’m in a decent spot now with my defence.
Defensive play improves beyond measure
“That probably came down to writing things down.”
Whatever sparked it, his defensive play has improved beyond measure. The crashing tackles he landed on Eben Etzebeth and others in the 13-8 win over defending champions South Africa were just the latest to catch the eye.
Lowe, who along with his wife Arnica welcomed their first child earlier this year, a boy called Nico, has matured from his days in New Zealand when Gibson-Park says he carried on like “a bit of an idiot”.
The player, described by his teammates as “great craic”, still possesses a fair amount of tomfoolery about him as his wife discovered when he rang her from France to show off his new look.
“She was surprised when I rang her, but that was only because I had a moustache. It’s here to stay.”
However, Farrell’s team has no space just for a court jester and even Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, never one to give compliments easily, labelled Lowe as a player “with the X-factor.”
Lowe is not one to pause and contemplate what he has brought to the team, aside from an impressive 11 tries in 25 Tests.
“Every single day there is something new to learn, and I’ll reflect at the end,” he said last month.
“You are a long time retired, aren’t you?”