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Ulster are aware that pivotal Sharks clash may well be the one that defines our season, claims full-back Mike Lowry


Head up: Michael Lowry is hoping he can put in another impressive shift and help Ulster earn a home quarter. Credit: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Head up: Michael Lowry is hoping he can put in another impressive shift and help Ulster earn a home quarter. Credit: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Head up: Michael Lowry is hoping he can put in another impressive shift and help Ulster earn a home quarter. Credit: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

We have now become accustomed to expecting a certain type of outcome when the ball comes his way.

Such has been Mike Lowry’s impact throughout this campaign and yet his abilities show no sign of plateauing whether he is on the ball in attack or awaiting deployment defensively.

His role in assessing the scene from the backfield and then countering with that dazzling acceleration to display a special skill-set when stepping around, or indeed under, potential tacklers has been one of Ulster’s trademark strengths in a game so dominated by the trundling out of frequently rehearsed plays.

Its apparently off the cuff manner comes from being able to not only read and identify space but then hit that area at full pelt to fully mine what Lowry has already seen.

The 23-year-old mostly makes it look easy, shaping one way and going the other. Yes, but it just doesn’t happen and requires acute awareness, high levels of confidence, an abundance of skill and, well, lots of practice.

Probably best to let him try to explain.

“I suppose it’s about scanning before anything happens,” is how he begins to outline the means of manufacturing a counter-attack from deep.

“If I know a kick is coming, or even before it has been kicked, you’ll see them set up a box kick, I’ll start scanning to see the picture.

“If they’ve got loads of forwards in a 10m channel then there’s bound to be space elsewhere or if there’s no space and they’ve filled the field really well then you’re looking for mismatches and ways of manipulating the defence.

“If their kick-chase is strong then you don’t have the same counter-attacking opportunities so you’re looking for a lot of different variables.

“If their kick-chase is slow then there is a good opportunity there but it all comes down to communication as well in that we all help each other out to pick out those mismatches and space.

“At the end of all that it’s just about being decisive I suppose and sort of mixing up the game.

“I tried to bring in a wee bit more kicking this year and I think that’s allowed me a bit more time and space when I do decide to run it back, so it is about having that bit of variation in your game that allows that to happen."

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All that must be processed in a matter of seconds and his running is also a weapon to be deployed for creating space for others to be put in the clear.

Of course, it doesn’t always work but, when it does, Lowry has looked to be darn near unplayable whether encountering reasonably well set or scrambling defensive shapes.

And just on the subject matter of defence, the now internationally-capped player can also perform here at an elevated level which is no mean feat considering his size.

Chopping down Pierre Schoeman last time out when the South African appeared to be bearing down on the line was brave and impressive while, under the high ball, Lowry also punches way above his weight.

He is much less effusive about his process when facing attackers though he is just as effective here than when shimmying his way towards probing for gaps.

“It’s just working alongside Jared (Payne) and he has given me tips for so many years. It is about hard work in the background and learning,” says Lowry, name-checking the soon to depart Ulster defence coach.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean going out and making 100 tackles during the week in training, it’s just learning what to look for and getting technique right.”

It’s all made him a hot property and his name looks heavily inked onto Andy Farrell’s squad list for this summer’s tour to New Zealand where the former RBAI pupil will be itching to win a second cap at some point in the three-Test series.

He deals with the growing hype by, well, largely ignoring it and his internal engine is geared towards simply pushing himself to be better.

“I stay off social media as much as I can,” he explains.

“You can read all the positive comments, but if you read a negative comment that one can stick in your head.

“You can have a bad game and want to look up social media, but I try to stay away from that and it’s been going well so everything is great.

“I suppose it’s about just staying grounded, working hard, staying in this environment and helping each other out.”

So the headspace is fine and in terms of improving his own efforts on the park, Lowry is able to expound here in a manner that sounds as if he’s older than his years.

“I actually remember seeing something saying that, ‘If you compete against yourself, you’ll get better but if you compete against others, you’ll get bitter’.

“I’m one who competes against myself rather than competing against others and that works for me.

“I quite liked this, and it allows me to improve a lot more.”

He’s at full-back again this evening for the Ravenhill clash against the Sharks — the recent rare outing at 10 against Munster did not go so smoothly — and his incursions on the game would seem bound to be impactful.

And this is quite a fixture, with a home quarter on offer for the winners against a mighty-looking Sharks side.

“It could be the difference for us travelling away to South Africa or staying at home and we all know how tough (going to) South Africa is,” adds Lowry.

“It pretty much could define the season and if we win it could build a bit of momentum going into the knockout stages.”

Another must-win occasion awaits them.

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