There might be no more Irish thing in sport than the fact that we love James Lowe now because of a tackle. He could play for Ireland for another decade and score the winning try in a World Cup final – okay, quarter-final – by cartwheeling past three England defenders to dot down in the corner and still it wouldn’t buy him the grá that wrap-tackle on Rieko Ioane did on Saturday night. He’s made for life now. Or at least until we come third in the Six Nations.
It’s always been hard to know what to make of James Lowe. He reminds you of one of those dudes you meet backpacking through Thailand. The lad who everybody loves and who will almost certainly convince your girlfriend that, well, life is for living and what happens at the Full Moon Party stays at the Full Moon Party. Who buys you a six-pack of Singha beer the next day to say no hard feelings – and there aren’t.
He comes across like a lad who’d leave the sales brochure in the back of a taxi but still manage to wing his way through the presentation and win the contract. If someone broke into his house, they’d probably tidy up and leave a nice dinner in the microwave. And he’d come home shrug and not think there was anything odd in it.
James Lowe makes life look like it’s always five in the evening on the Friday of a festival. Like he knows someone else has put up the tent already and the beers are always going to be cold and Monday is for other people.
And we Irish people, we find it hard to put our faith in that sort of buck. Don’t be telling us that life is a breeze. Don’t be shrugging your shoulders and smiling through it all. And above all, don’t be doing it if you’re trying to be one of us.
Here’s how it works, James. Irish people like to think we have a patent on the whole happy-go-lucky thing. It’s what we use to fool the rest of the world into forgetting about The Troubles, the Celtic Tiger and Bono. Why else do you think we send Mrs Brown’s Boys out into the world? We do it to show that we can laugh at pretty much anything.
But just to be clear, it’s a pose. We do not trust people who smile all the time. We do not think life is a breeze. We aren’t actually happy-go-lucky at all. We are, on a good day, dubious-go-moderately-fortunate. It doesn’t have the same ring to it but it’s much closer to the truth.
That’s especially – and increasingly – true of our sporting culture. The last recorded in-game smile in an inter-county GAA match was Nicky English back in the 1990s. Clare people took such grievous offence to it that there are still barrios in Ennis where he’d think twice about walking down late at night. Any Dublin footballer found laughing during the championship is required to prank call Stephen Cluxton as punishment.
He called us bollockses after it. Bollockses! And just to show him what bollockses we truly are, pretty much every paper and website – this one included – asterisked it out. That’ll tell you how hard tough it is to get into the circle, James. If anyone’s going to call anyone bollockses around here, it ain’t going to be a lad from the South Island with the ponytail and the coat-hanger grin.
So James Lowe was up against it right from the start, purely because of the type of him. Had he grown up here, we all know well what would have happened. That jokey, blokey, smiley shite would have been knocked out of him long before he made it to international level. James Lowe from, say, Monkstown would have a neat haircut, a few years of nightclasses done in UCD and a watertight appreciation of his defensive duties. He wouldn’t be calling anyone a bollocks in the press, least of all the press itself.
But more than all that, he was up against it because at heart, we all know the residency rule is a bit of a cod. We all know in our bones that it makes a bit of a mockery of what international sport is for. That beating the All Blacks is great and all but we needed three Kiwis and a South African and an Aussie off the bench to do it and that if life’s winds had blown Lowe, Jamison Gibson-Park, Bundee Aki, Rob Herring and Finlay Bealham in different directions, it probably wouldn’t have happened.