Ireland head coach Andy Farrell admits he would have found it “a nightmare” to play against international newcomer Michael Lowry.
Ulster full-back Lowry will make his Test debut against Italy in the Guinness Six Nations on Sunday afternoon as reward for a string of electric performances at provincial level.
Yet the fleet-footed 23-year-old, who stands at 5ft 7in, was written off by many earlier in his career because of his height.
Former dual-code international Farrell, a two-time Man of Steel who helped England reach World Cup finals in league and union, believes Lowry has turned a potential weakness into a strength.
“No, it’s never been a problem,” replied 6ft 3in Farrell when asked about Lowry’s stature.
“It’s actually a nightmare for somebody like me, if I was playing against him.
“I think his size is an added bonus for him. I think it makes him an absolute nightmare for people to handle.
“Since his first day at Ulster, he hasn’t grown has he since then?
“But he’s certainly got braver, more dynamic, more game-awareness, more game-sense. He’s able to play the game in many different ways.
“He’s explosive, hits a line, he’s brave, so we’re hoping he can be himself on Sunday.”
Lowry’s opportunity comes as part of six personnel changes made by Farrell – two of which were enforced.
Injuries to Ronan Kelleher and James Ryan have afforded fellow Leinster players Dan Sheehan and Ryan Baird maiden Six Nations starts, while James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw and stand-in captain Peter O’Mahony return.
The Irish are bidding to get their title challenge back on track after defeat to France last time out ended their Grand Slam dreams following an opening win over Wales.
Farrell, who has retained Joey Carbery, pictured below, at fly-half ahead of fit-again skipper Johnny Sexton, does not expect the raft of changes to cause major disruption.
“It’s all about winning Test matches and, make no mistake about it, we’re still in with a chance of winning the championship,” he said.
“This isn’t like you get to the summer and you’ve got 13 guys missing and you’re giving people an opportunity.
“This is a proper Test match that means an awful lot to everyone in this group, so there’s a responsibility to this group to perform to the highest level and these guys know that responsibility and take that on.
“We want to see them under that type of pressure as well.
“Yes, there are one or two changes. But that’s not to say for one second that we don’t expect to be anything but our best.
“That’s our expectation and that’s how the lads feel about it.”
With clashes against England and Scotland on the horizon, Ireland will be eager to secure a resounding bonus-point success against a team which has lost 34 in a row in the tournament.
Farrell insists he is not underestimating Kieran Crowley’s visitors.
“We know from recent results how people have had it really tough against Italy,” he said.
“We know that if you don’t approach the game in the right manner, then you can come away with egg on your face.
“They’re a great side that’s well coached.
“You can see what they’re trying to do and where they’re trying to go to, so we need to be at our best to get the performance that we want because if we’re slightly off, we’ll have a hell of a time on Sunday afternoon.”
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