AGAINST THE LEICESTER Tigers, Michael Lowry made all the headlines for the right reasons. Against Racing 92, he made them for slightly different reasons.
It’s been well documented now about the Simon Zebo incident — the finger point, the apology (both in person and on social media) and the inevitable fallout. That’s done and dusted, everyone move on and forget about it.
Simon Zebo embraces Lowry at full-time in Paris last week. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Except Lowry himself never had a chance to speak out about it. Until now.
“I expected it to be on social media a wee bit but I think it’s blown up a bit,” the 20-year old states with a little bit of tongue-in-cheek.
“At the time I didn’t think much of it to be fair, I think he just got a bit excited, like most people would in front of their home fans in that stadium. I tried not to put too much on social media, just apology accepted, he apologised and we made up.”
Still, he can’t deny the impact it’s had. The video went viral, fans assessed their opinion and filed onto either side of the argument while columnists lined up to have their say on whether Zebo needed to apologise or not.
Meanwhile, Lowry retreated into the shadows, happy to let the rest of the rugby world have the debate on his behalf.
“When you see videos published online all the time about rugby players, you never think that one day that could be you,” he admits. “When I went out on Saturday night I was looking at newsfeeds and it was all of me and Zebo.
“I didn’t expect it to be fair, I expected a bit of tweeting and some statuses, but I didn’t think it’d be published on every single website.
“I didn’t think about an apology, to be fair, at all. I was just thinking next play sort of thing, but looking back on it, it’s nice to see he came over and apologised.”
At least it had one positive impact.
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“My (social media) followers went up massively so I was over the moon!” Lowry laughs. “In terms of that respect it was quite good.”
Moving on from the raging debate, as Lowry endeavours to do, it’s good to sit down with the Ulster Academy prospect, who has tabbed from an early age as one of the brighter lights to come through the underage system in recent memory.
The driving force behind RBAI’s three-in-a-row Schools’ Cup successes from 2015 to 2017 from fly-half, there was hope that he would be the next big thing as Ulster began their rebuild from within, and so far he’s lived up to the hype.
After missing a year through a long-term groin injury, making an abbreviated return for Banbridge in their Division 1B play-offs in the All-Ireland League last season, this season he’s made the big breakthrough.
A cameo of a debut in the crushing defeat at Thomond Park was quickly followed by a surprise first start against Leicester in the Heineken Champions Cup, and was then backed up by another start in Paris against Racing 92.
Lowry has impressed in recent weeks. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland
So far he’s excelled too, last week setting the record for the most metres gained by an Ulster player in a European fixture since they started keeping stats, and already there’s hope that this will lead to a prolonged stay in the first team.
So, how do you cope with that as a 20-year old?
“It’s been an incredible experience,” he grins. “This time last year, I never thought I’d be playing in Europe against Racing and Leicester. Obviously I’ve been over the moon to get in the squad and to get playing and to get 80 minutes in both games.
“I try to be quite relaxed before games but also through the week I’ll be thinking about everything. Before the Leicester game, I was thinking they’re going to definitely target me in the air and they did.
“The first high ball went up, the way the ball went I didn’t get on to it, but the rest of them I had the confidence just to go for it after that and I think it’s really important to have a bit of confidence.
“It’s really important to have that and try to be calm. If you get too nervous, nerves can be a good thing and I do get butterflies the odd time before games, but once the whistle goes you have to be ice in the head.”