Leinster turning heads with blockbuster signings

Date published: March 7 2017

Recruiting one of the best wingers in Super Rugby in James Lowe and Australia’s hard-working back-row Scott Fardy have thrust the spotlight on Leinster and built anticipation ahead of next season.

Leinster’s current campaign has been far from a failure, top of the PRO12 and with also a home Champions Cup quarter-final ahead against Wasps.

2017 marks five years since the last of their European titles however, having been overtaken by Toulon and now Saracens, and now in a bid to get back to those heights, their two new high-profile signings over the last week have been hugely impressive.

Starting with Scott Fardy, it has almost become cliché to describe the Brumby as the underrated member of an extremely talented back row featuring Michael Hooper and David Pocock, because Fardy’s craft is now widely appreciated.

Few players in the sport display a higher work-rate on a weekly basis, regularly powering his way from one breakdown to the next.

Leo Cullen, the Leinster head coach, stressed that Fardy has been signed as a lock, with the move coming a few days before Mike McCarthy’s departure to Narbonne was confirmed. But it would be no surprise to see him also packing down at six, the position he has made his own with the Wallabies.

Fardy’s backstory is also one of remarkable perseverance. Having more or less given up on playing for Australia and moved to play in Japan, he returned home aged 28 and has gone on to win 39 caps and counting for the Wallabies ever since, after sparkling for the Brumbies under Jake White.

Fardy’s resulting depth of experience, combined with his skill as a lineout operator, make him a savvy acquisition. Leinster’s young locks in Ross Molony, Mick Kearney, David O’Connor and James Ryan will all learn plenty from Fardy, as they have from Devin Toner.

His arrival feels similar to the signing of Rocky Elsom, another Australian, who will never struggle to find a free pint in Dublin after his heroics in the province’s run to that first European Cup back in 2009. Should Fardy make a similar impact then Leinster will be well set.

Fardy is the quality veteran recruit whose move almost feels obvious, and a natural fit. The move for James Lowe on the other hand is an out-and-out blockbuster transfer.

Cynics naturally pointed to Lowe becoming the next to follow CJ Stander and Jared Payne as a potential future Ireland international qualifying on residency grounds, but Lowe’s thoughts outlined to Stuff on Tuesday after the move was confirmed proved that there is far more to him than that.

Having watched his team-mate and Chiefs co-captain Charlie Ngatai battle to come back from concussion, and as a sufferer himself of rheumatoid arthritis, Lowe is a 24-year-old with the awareness that his career could come to a premature end at any moment.

Not only that, but Lowe has recognised that with Israel Dagg and Ben Smith re-signing with the NZRU, and taking into account the size of the offer on the table from Leinster, that this was an “awesome opportunity”, in his words, that couldn’t be turned down.

Based on the start of this Super Rugby season and his exploits over the last two years, he will be worth every euro Leinster pay him.

Lowe is frankly a devastating finisher who would be in contention for a starting berth for any Test country were the likes of Smith, Dagg, Julian Savea, Waisake Naholo, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Rieko Ioane are not also competing for the same spots.

Rapid, with quick feet and a natural talent to spot gaps in defences before ripping through them, Leinster have arguably made the signing of the season, and one which raised plenty of eyebrows when announced on Monday, more than the confirmation hours earlier that Ian Madigan is one the move to Championship-bound Bristol.

Fardy and Lowe alone, it should be said, would not turn any club on the continent into cast-iron contenders.

Yet add them into a squad already brimming with Ireland internationals new and old – a mixture of the Tadgh Furlong, Jack McGrath, Josh van der Flier, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose with Johnny Sexton, Toner, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney – and Leinster, the team leading the PRO12 and with a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup, automatically move up a level.

Next season, with Fardy and Lowe turning out at the RDS, they will be a fasincating watch.

by Ben Coles