‘We know we’ve got a target on our backs… they want to put a shot on us’
James Lowe knows that Leinster can take nothing for granted if they want to secure Champions Cup top seeding.
WHEN LEINSTER MAKE the trip to Stadio Monigo for tomorrow’s final round Champions Cup pool encounter against Benetton, they will be aiming to extend an extraordinary run that dates all the way back to May of last year.
Following the devastation of a maiden European final defeat at the hands of Saracens, Leo Cullen’s men subsequently bounced back to retain their Pro14 title and have carried this rich vein of form into 2019/20. Should they get the better of the Italians this weekend, their record for the season will stand at 16 wins from 16 games played.
While Blues winger James Lowe has never played in a team that experienced this kind of a streak, he did help to halt an unbeaten run on his Super Rugby debut with the Chiefs in February 2014. With the tie finely balanced late on, the flamboyant New Zealander scored an intercept try to inflict a first home league defeat on the Crusaders since 30 June 2012.
“It was actually round one of the season down in Canterbury against Crusaders. We were up by one. Corey Flynn and Nafi Tuitavake shot down the short side. Ben Tameifuna, big man, shot in and left me stranded. I didn’t want to tackle back then, so I went for an intercept!” Lowe recalls of their clash at the AMI Stadium.
However, despite claiming that significant scalp, the Chiefs had entered that campaign as reigning champions after successfully defending their maiden top-flight crown of 2012. Lowe is therefore well accustomed to the favourites tag, which Leinster will have to deal with once again in Treviso.
“We know we’ve got a target on our backs. If we’re on an unbeaten run or it’s round one of a competition. People want to beat us. We’ve been at the top for a couple of years. We’re a premier team in Europe. It doesn’t matter what team turns up. They want to put a shot on us. That’s for sure.”
With big games to follow in the coming weeks and months – not to mention the presence of 16 of their players in Andy Farrell’s Six Nations squad – it would be easy for Leinster to take their foot off the gas against Pool One’s basement side tomorrow.
Yet the eastern province need another win to be assured of top seeding for the knockout rounds and given how tough their previous battles have been with Kieran Crowley’s side, Lowe acknowledged they can’t afford to let their guard slip.
“It doesn’t matter what we have done before this game. There is such a huge bearing on this game. If we win, then we get first, a home quarter. If we win that, a home semi. If we are able to win that, we get to pick the changing rooms [for the final]. This will have such a huge bearing on the outcome of the season,” Lowe explained.
“Benetton’s results don’t reflect the team that they are. There is a lot of international quality sprinkled throughout it. They have beaten us before. We have drawn to them.
“Every single game we have played against them, we haven’t been able to put them away, so obviously they can go in confident. But it is all about us. If we can get in there and be clinical, get on top, stay on top, hopefully we can come away with the win.”
Whereas the majority of Leinster’s first-choice selection will be ensconced in the Ireland camp during the Six Nations, Lowe will remain behind with the rest of the squad as they return to Pro14 action.
This is expected to change for the Guinness Series in November when the Nelson native becomes Irish-qualified. Although this will most likely limit his game time with Leinster, that is currently the furthest thing from Lowe’s mind.
“I’m enjoying my rugby at the moment. If I get picked, then I want to perform. I want to play 80. I’ve been very lucky to have gone this far without any serious niggles or things that have kept me out of games. Touch wood, hopefully, I can get to the end of the season and worry about that next hurdle when it comes,” Lowe said.