Josh van der Flier sees his work rate as key to future at Leinster
Flanker excelled against Connacht, making a record 34 tackles and missing none
Leinster flanker Josh van der Flier: “Glasgow are a really dangerous side.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
We have little comprehension of what a professional rugby player means when he says he’s “very sore” after a match. When Josh van der Flier recalls the last time he played against Montpellier, he was “very sore”.
Perhaps not as sore as when Leinster faced Glasgow before the November international series. Then it was not so much very sore as hurt with the Scottish side running out 31-21 winners in Scotstoun, Leinster’s last defeat.
But “very sore” is van der Fliers’ domain in a backrow swimming with talent. His record 34 tackles and none missed against Connacht, is testament to his work rate, which is where the flanker sees his future.
With Sean O’Brien struggling with a hip injury and Dan Leavy returning to full training this week, van der Flier can rightfully claim his timing is good with Glasgow, Montpellier, France, Italy and Wales consuming the next five weeks.
“I remember thinking during the game ‘I’m making a lot of tackles here’ and after the game I was thinking it was probably my most ever,” he says. “But I thought it was around the 25 mark. I knew it was more than I had made before so I was pretty surprised afterwards to hear how many it was. It was good.
“Ross Molony got 29 and Max Deegan was 25, I think. It was just one of those games. 29 is an outrageous amount of tackles for any game. I think it was just Connacht hold on to the ball a lot, and they ran at the forwards. As well as that, they had a few big phases of play in our 22.”
Not missing any tackles is as important as the 34 hits but the constant search for improvement means the quality of tackling also comes under scrutiny. A tackle may not be a hit.
“When I first came into Leinster it was ‘no missed tackles, that’s brilliant’,” he says. “Now it’s kind of ‘oh well you soaked a few tackles, you had a few tackles where you made them and they ended up a few yards past you before you managed to get them down.’
“You can have no missed tackles but a few that get behind you. I had a few tackles that I soaked a lot and gave them a good bit of yards or they got an offload away, those kinds of things.”
Van der Flier values work rate because he does not have the size to run over opponents. He doesn’t have the power of Rhys Ruddock, or Jack Conan or Sean O’Brien, so he goes about matters differently. He explains he has to “bring it in” in other areas.
The mould that All Black Richie McCaw fell from is the best the 24-year-old has seen. McCaw’s raw style would be illegal these days and probably was when he played. But the All Black’s determination to be where it counted all of the time is a masterclass in reading a game and aerobic capacity, while Stuart Lancaster is encouraging him to also be a link between backs and forwards.
“He doesn’t seem like the type of fella who would have run the pitch and stepped the fullback type of thing, but he just constantly worked and constantly did his best for the team, so I suppose he is pretty much, in my opinion anyway, the best 7 there was. So yeah, he’s up there anyway, the gold standard.”
It is something to remember for Sunday. Lack of errors can trump enterprising play. Leinster will recall Niko Matawalu and how Glasgow had earned a try-scoring bonus point in the Pro14 meeting with just 28 minutes on the clock.
“They’re a really dangerous side, they hold on to the ball well,” says van der Flier. “When we played them over there we missed a couple of tackles and they ran the length of the pitch.”
Back to those numbers again. 34-0 would be “very sore” for Glasgow.