Josh van der Flier adding flair to his game to go with the graft

Leinster flanker keeps ticking up the man-of-the-match showings and racking up the tries

Leinster’s Josh van der Flier runs in to score his side’s ninth try during the Heineken Champions Cup match against Montpellier at the RDS. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster’s Josh van der Flier runs in to score his side’s ninth try during the Heineken Champions Cup match against Montpellier at the RDS. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

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Another brace of tries, another man-of-the-match performance. This is not supposed to happen with a player who has turned 28, but the reinvention of Josh van der Flier as a potent ball carrier to augment his voracious workload continues apace.

Granted, Van der Flier will not come across a flimsier defence than Montpellier all season, perhaps in his career, but his seasonal haul of four tries is already the most he has managed in one campaign for Leinster, to which can be added the brace of tries he scored for Ireland against Argentina in November.

In his 68 minutes on the pitch, Van der Flier made a remarkable 129 metres – eclipsed only by the free-running Garry Ringrose and Jordan Larmour – from his 10 carries, and he also executed 15 tackles, a figure surpassed only by Ross Molony’s tally of 18.

It helps, admittedly, when you read the opposition hooker’s long throw quicker than any of your opponents, and then race in untouched from almost half-way. It was as if he heard the call.

“I’ve a bit of French, but we’d done a lot of research on what they might bring,” revealed Van der Flier. “James Tracy actually said to me a couple of days ago that it’s a play they like to do. Dan Sheehan mentioned it – he said to watch the overthrow – and I saw from their number 12’s body language that it might go over, so it was good cueing up from those guys and good to take the opportunity.

“I don’t get in the space too often. It was good. Very pleasing. It’s a bit of a blur but nice to look back on.”

His other try was a more classical openside support trailer to avail of Jack Conan’s offload off the deck.

“It was good of Jack, I’ve been trying to work on those support lines. You have to get a bit lucky with them as well, that’s the way it goes. It’s not something I’ve been traditionally good at, but it was pleasing to get one today.”

As is usually the case Ireland’s depth chart is more extensive in the backrow than anywhere else. Hence, despite a hat-load of loose forwards putting their hands up both within Leinster and across the provinces, the trio of Van der Flier, Conan and Caelan Doris, whose classy performance last Sunday confirmed his wellbeing too, this again looks like the go-to Irish combination against Wales in the Six Nations opener again.

“We’ve got a good balance. We’ve had a good amount of involvements each and that’s important.

“Neither Caelan, Jack or any of the backrows in Leinster, there’s no selfish players there. There’s times when someone has to be hitting the rucks, someone has to be keeping the space out wide and I think the lads are good that if someone is tired someone else can do a bit of work.

“They’re great, world-class players. It’s a privilege to play in the backrow with them,” said Van der Flier, who couldn’t help but laugh as he reeled off the other contenders in Leinster alone – Rhys Ruddock, Max Deegan, Will Connors, Scott Penny and Josh Murphy.

“There’s a lot of very good backrows around,” he concluded. “That’s part of it as well, being pushed along by all the competition every day in training.”

After their enforced month-long hiatus, Van der Flier sees next Saturday’s trek to the Rec to play Bath as an opportunity to generate some momentum into Leinster’s season, when a bonus-point win should secure a top four seeding for the knock-out stages.

“Exactly. We’ll look at them early in the week and then focus on getting a good performance for ourselves. There a top-quality team with a lot of good players, it’ll definitely be a challenge but we’ll look for a good start, win the game first and see where we go from there.”

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