LONDON (AFP) – New Zealanders James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park have travelled a similar path to representing their adopted country Ireland, but they are very different characters.
They are both 28, play for Leinster and back in New Zealand they appeared for the Maori All Blacks.
On Friday, they will both don the green jersey and start in the Autumn Nations Cup game against Wales – for Lowe his first cap and for Gibson-Park his first start but third cap.
Lowe has been described by his fellow Irish squad members as great for the “craic” and as a “free spirit” by head coach Andy Farrell, who said Gibson-Park is a calmer figure.
This transfers itself onto the pitch where Lowe’s natural exuberance translates into crowd-pleasing performances and Gibson-Park is less noticeable but effective at creating opportunities and seeing openings.
Gibson-Park was the pathfinder, coming to Ireland in 2016 – qualifying for the national side last year under the three-year residency rule – and the scrum-half played a key role in persuading Lowe to make the trip a year later.
Lowe came closest of the two to playing for the All Blacks – the wing’s sole opportunity ruined when a shoulder injury ruled him out of a Test against Samoa.
It said a lot about his determination and ability he has come this far given he was bed-ridden as a youngster with rheumatoid arthritis – he still receives weekly injections and painkillers for the condition.
Lowe has become an established starter for Leinster whilst Gibson-Park is battling with Luke McGrath for the first-choice position.
The Kiwi is at present in the ascendancy over his fellow Ireland international – and seemingly in the race to replace Conor Murray as first-choice international when the time comes – having started the Pro14 final win over Ulster in September.
Lowe, in typically blunt style, said last year the three-year residency rule, which is now five, was “stupid”.
“It’s weird that I could be Irish, isn’t it? Like, it is weird.”
Gibson-Park said it is rarer for his friend to make those type of remarks than when he knew him in New Zealand.
“He has matured a good bit since then I think,” said Gibson-Park on Monday.
“He used to carry on like a bit of an idiot, but he has matured and come a long way.
“As you can see, he is an incredible footballer.”
Gibson-Park said he believes Lowe’s new found maturity is down to the coaching staff at Leinster.
“He likes to wind people up a little bit,” he said.
“But he’s better to have on your team than on the other team.
“Maybe Stu’s (Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster) been in his ear, and that is why he has matured.”
There is certainly a weight of expectancy on Lowe, with Ireland captain Johnny Sexton saying he has ‘the X-factor’ about his play.
“He (Lowe) brings another dimension to our attack and hopefully he can transfer those elements to the Test level,” said Farrell.
“If he does that will help us move forward.”
Farrell said he is equally excited by Gibson-Park and what he can offer.
“His vision and decision-making is pretty good,” said Farrell on Tuesday. “He is a calming influence, he can see many pictures.”
Gibson-Park said the fact he and Lowe missed out on the All Blacks is “a running joke” with the Irish group.
He said, though, having thought at one point he would never play Test rugby, the reality of it is overwhelming and gave him a “great sense of pride”.
“There’s been periods where I probably lacked a lot of self-confidence and you feel as though you’ll never get there,” he said.
“It was an awesome feeling once I did go on (in the 50-17 drubbing of Italy last month). It’s been a crazy journey to this point.”