August 19, 2022

The Toulouse and France scrumhalf bowed out at the semi-finals, but had a fine tournament.

James Lowe’s form in the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup has seen him rocket into contention for a big end-of-season accolade. He will be up against Antoine Dupont, Gregory Alldritt and a couple of familiar faces for the prize.

The Leinster winger, who scored eight tries in four knockout games against Connacht, Leicester and Toulouse, has been included on the shortlist for the EPCR European Player of the Year.

Lowe joins Leinster, and Ireland, teammates Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris on the five-man list. Also nominated are Antoine Dupont (Toulouse) and Gregory Alldritt, who has been the La Rochelle talisman on their journey to the Champions Cup final, where they will meet Leinster, on May 28.

Unfortunately, the inclusion of Lowe has seen Leinster backline colleague Jimmy O’Brien miss out on the shortlist. The winger, who started all four knockout games, was on the original longlist, released in February, but has been bumped out in favour of Lowe.

Antoine Dupont, the dark-horse

Antoine Dupont’s chances of capturing the best player award will take a hit, no doubt, by Toulouse missing out on the final. He won the accolade last season, but Munster and Leinster both made him look human in the quarter- and semi-final.

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He still managed to score the game-turning try against Ulster, in the Last 16, nail his kick in the shoot-out against Munster and give Toulouse early hope, against Leinster, with an intercept try. He will certainly be a dark-horse for the prize he claimed after Toulouse won the cup, last season.

The inclusion of James Lowe on that EPCR shortlist for European Player of the Year is an apt recognition of the winger’s exceptional return to form.

Carrying injuries through most of 2020/21, Lowe was not at the previous high standards that saw him taken to the heart of Leinster fans, and that had Andy Farrell looking to hand him a Test debut as soon as possible. This season has seen Lowe back closer to 100% at ripping up defences, for Leinster and Ireland.

Earlier in the season, Leinster assistant coach Felipe Contepomi told House of Rugby how James Lowe had knuckled down and worked even harder to make up for a up-and-down 2020/21 season.

“It’s interesting in terms that he’s been used to a very different system, from growing up in New Zealand,” said Contepomi.

“So, it’s not only about changing his game, it’s changing his position, his way of defending. His common knowledge of how he has to play, because it’s a different system here. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.

“The more you work, the less time it takes, the harder you work. But sometimes it takes longer. And probably it’s easier  when you learn it at 18, 19 years old. He just had to learn it a bit older, and change a bit of what brought him, as a good player, to be in Ireland.”

Gregory Alldritt has been in super form for both La Rochelle and France this season. A win for Ronan O’Gara’s side could see him finish with the personal honour of being crowned the EPCR Player of the Year.

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