James Lowe turned in a Man of the Match performance against the Pro14 champion Scarlets last weekend. Yet he may not feature in the playoff games for Leinster. Why?

You might not be aware, but only two non-EU players are permitted in Pro 14, Premiership and Top 14 matchday squads. This is confusing as we routinely see (sometimes many) more than two. Due to the Kolpak ruling, many countries do not count against this limit. In the rugby context South Africa, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are the biggies that are permitted.

Three into two doesn’t go

This season Leinster have three such players on the books; Scott Fardy, Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe. In isolation each signing made sense, but added together can cause a headache. Gibson-Park, a young scrum-half brought in as a project player is in his second season with the team. Scott Fardy is a grizzled international forward, still young in second-row terms at 33. James Lowe is an all-action winger that Leinster would have been foolish to pass on. To date the problem has been manageable, Lowe arrived late in the season and all require rest at various times.

McGrath Injury causes problems

But, as we approach the business end of the season, there is a spanner in the works. Injury to first choice scrum half Luke McGrath makes Gibson-Park indispensable. Nick McCarthy is the only other player with any recent experience at the position.

Fardy is one of Leinster’s best players this season, delivering in all aspects of play and leading those around him. He is surely undroppable. This leaves Lowe as the likely odd man out. He has shown his undoubted class in attack; blending power, intelligent lines and unparalleled offloading ability. While there have been some criticisms of his defense, I believe they have been over the top. Ironically, further game time would remedy any defensive issues, but that may be in short supply.

Scott Fardy in his days with the Wallabies.
Scott Fardy in his days with the Wallabies.
Photo: Hpeterswald, via Wiki Commons

McGrath is due back for the Champions Cup game against Saracens. In the interim, we may assume that Gibson-Park will play a lot. Fardy too, due to his quality plus the absence of Toner and James Ryan, both with Ireland for the Six Nations.

This will leave Lowe with little chance to cement his place over the next few weeks. So, while Lowe provides a tempting attacking threat, it will be very difficult for the Leinster coaching staff to find a place for him in the crunch games.

Stephen Kavanagh

Author: Stephen Kavanagh

I love most sports, but rugby is my passion. Having retired from a long and underwhelming rugby career as a too short 2nd row, I can dedicate more of my time to watching and talking (endlessly) about it. I was encouraged to start writing about sport by my wife and friends. I think they had a vain hope that I would write more and talk less, how wrong they were.


  1. Great article, interesting and something I don’t think many knew about. I understand why the pacific islands get allowed in but I am confused why South Africans are permitted by not Aussies or Kiwis. If anyone knows the answer would be interested to find out why this is?

    • Essentially it is to do with free movement between the EU and any country that has a “European Union Association Agreement”.
      It is usually for trade and political reasons, but also covers employment of individuals, in this case rugby players.

      South Africa have an agreement, while NZ and Aus do not – yet.

      It is an interesting situation and explains the numbers of South Africans in the Prem and Pro14, plus the numbers of Fijians, Samoans and Tongans appearing in the French league

  2. Bizarre to say the least. The restriction is ridiculous in the age of professionalism. Fardy and Lowe have been incredible for their clubs and rugby in general. Fans deserve to see the best.

  3. Very interesting. I’m used to seeing the Kolpack ruling in terms of SA county cricketers in England but didn’t realise it was also the reason behind the large numbers of South Africans, and Pacific Islanders in the Pro 14

  4. The obvious question here is what impact will this have on the AP and Pro-14 post-Brexit?

    I assume given contract lengths, league wide desires for foreign players etc that both leagues will be looking to introduce internal league rules?


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