James Lowe’s Signing May Have Been An Administrative Mistake On Leinster’s Part

Niall Murphy

Niall Murphy

Niall is from Dublin and has worked for online media and gambling companies. Though he doesn't claim to understand any of it. Would like to go to Bilbao next year, for a weekend maybe in May.
Niall Murphy

Third wheel.

James Lowe was not included in the match day squad against Exeter last week, despite costing a small fortune. And the reason seemed pretty simple. The rules of the competition demand that only two registered players for the match day squad be non-European.

As part of their game plan Leinster were already playing two-non European players in Scott Fardy and Jamison Gibson Park, leaving no space for Lowe.

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Eagle eyed observers might have noticed that Isa Nacewa was also on the pitch, and he’s not European either (he’s registered as being from Fiji). But the Kolpak ruling gives special status to South African and Pacific Island players, meaning they don’t count toward your two non-Europeans. Which in effect really means you can only have two players from Australia, New Zealand or Argentina in your Champions Cup team.

So was signing Lowe actually an administrative mistake?

It seems ridiculous to think that Leinster acquired Lowe by accident. But a quick scan of their rivals turns up an interesting fact: Munster, Ulster and Connacht don’t have three or more unqualified players, they have bang on the limit of two non European players. Which looks like it’s on purpose.

It’s true that Connacht have 5 Kiwis and Aussies, but only two of these, Andrew Deegan and Stacey Ili, don’t qualify as exempt through residency. So it’s only Leinster who have more than the max of two ‘non-European players’, vaguely defined as that is. Only Leinster can’t put out any team they want on European match day.

Just a coincidence?

Well there’s a little more evidence that it was a mistake: Bizarrely, the rule for non-European players actually exists for the PRO14 as well. Which means the shape of the other Irish provincial teams make perfect sense. Whatever about the tent pole European fixtures, why have players that can’t be available for the bread and butter PRO14 games either?

So sadly something has to give at Leinster. Someone probably has to go.

Though it is important just to note the reason the rule against non-Europeans is bizarre for the PRO 14 is because that tournament now actually has two non-European teams in South Africa. They have a special rule that they can only have two non-South African players. This raises huge questions of fairness- Irish teams can have as many South Africans, Pacific Islanders and Europeans as they want plus two Kiwis, but the Kings and Cheetahs can only have two non-South Africans. At the moment it’s not an issue- they only have one non native player between them anyway. But the rule will eventually have to change for the Pro14.

But probably not fast enough to get Leinster out of this dilemma. It’s probably worth noting Jamison Gibson-Park was brought in as a project player also, but isn’t eligible until June 2019. That means perhaps it will be between Fardy and Lowe to leave if the rule doesn’t change, as Leinster are light in the scrumhalf department and the IRFU won’t want to lose their investment.

Lowe however, will be eligible for Ireland in three years having got in before the rule changes to five year. That leaves one man. Lowe has since been added to Leinster’s squad for this weekend’s return clash with Exeter. It will be interesting to see who’s dropped should Lowe make the matchday squad.