When the All Blacks announce their squad for the Rugby Championship there is one name who will make the headlines whether selected or not.
That man is James Lowe, as the volume continues to increase on calls for him to be given an international bow. He has earned a shot and if that does come in August it would mean one of Israel Dagg, Julian Savea or Damian McKenzie are likely to miss out in an enviable headache.
Selecting on form and there is no doubt Lowe has earned a call-up and his inclusion would certainly give the All Blacks a shot in the arm. He has impressed round after round this season, kicking on from a frustrating 2015 when injury and suspension cost him regular game-time.
Many players have been in this position before, believing they have done enough to get the coveted cap only to be left in the cold, which is what happened to Lowe ahead of the June internationals. At that point in time, however, back-three rivals for the 32 like Dagg, Waisake Naholo and McKenzie were in impressive form for their franchises. Savea was backed to perform as Steve Hansen showed a loyalty to his left wing.
There is the admirable mindset from the selectors as few knee-jerk reactions occur in terms of wielding the axe. But, unlike in May, Savea has been dropped by his franchise while Lowe in contrast has gone up another level, which surely creates a dilemma for the decision makers.
What Lowe offers the Chiefs and what he could bring to New Zealand’s game is a fascinating prospect. Super Rugby has already witnessed how the Chiefs’ exits from danger are seamless due to his left-foot option. That takes heat off the fly-half and is just one of his qualities.
Developing players before and during their international career has long been an attitude for the back-to-back World Cup winners and we’ve seen how Ma’a Nonu went from gainline runner into a quality ball player who also added a kicking game, which was a real fillip. But, with Nonu now having retired and Malakai Fekitoa and Ryan Crotty falling short in that area, adding Lowe’s boot is surely a growing temptation.
With ball in hand he has also impressed, progressing from promising outings for Tasman into a high class Super Rugby player as we saw most recently against the Stormers. His 1016 metres, 150 carries and 26 offloads are all in the top seven this term. And yes, there are several options available, but on form it would be wonderful to see Lowe, Waisake Naholo and Ben Smith starting with Damian McKenzie off the bench.
So, he ticks the boxes in terms of skills, numbers and the nuts and bolts but what hasn’t changed in his still young career is how he does not let pressure affect his game. Whether playing against the Kings or Crusaders, this is a player who loves his work and never goes into his shell. Indeed, the Stormers attempted to rile him early on only for Lowe to do his talking with a try and assist in a quality showing.
Furthermore one of his best performances this year came against international opposition when the Chiefs thumped Wales last month, proving he relishes the biggest stage and it’s a positive Lowe’s form is on an upward climb at such a critical period of the Super Rugby campaign.
He couldn’t have a better platform to showcase his game than this semi-final in Wellington on Saturday and with Savea watching on from the sidelines, this may be Lowe’s time to finally bang down the All Black door. Not before time? Maybe, but few would argue it isn’t deserved.