Wasps thrashing sharp reminder for Van der Flier and Leinster
Cullen’s side return to Coventry looking to expunge memory of record 51-10 defeat
Josh van der Flier: “I don’t have too good memories of that game. It was tough. They were very, very good and I remember they scored a lot of very good backs’ tries.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
It was a painful conclusion to a miserable time in the 2015-2016 Champions Cup that yielded just a single victory in six pool matches.
Leo Cullen’s side will be looking to expunge the memory, having exacted partial retribution earlier in the campaign by thumping Wasps 52-3 at the RDS. Time may have dulled the pain or the embarrassment slightly but for those Leinster players who took part it’ll take a good deal longer to erase completely.
There aren’t many remaining from both teams that day; Leinster, depending on team selection, may retain a third or so of the playing group. One of those is openside flanker Josh van der Flier, who came on as a half-time replacement for Jordi Murphy.
“I don’t have too good memories of that game. It was tough. They were very, very good and I remember they scored a lot of very good backs’ tries. They cut us apart in defence so we are aware of what they can do. That was certainly a game we can learn from.”
He accepts that there has been a significant turnover in personnel.
“James Ryan is now central to the team. He wasn’t playing at all back then so it is mad to look back and see how players have come through. It’s really exciting. We saw that at the weekend and we’ve seen it every time there has been a younger side, lads step up.
“We knew if we stuck to the game plan that we would do well. We were confident going into it but it was very pleasing the way the game went.”
Leinster won’t have the comfy blanket of the RDS this weekend and van der Flier acknowledged that the players have to absorb the lessons of away defeats to Toulouse and Munster if they’re to avoid a similar downfall come Sunday in Coventry. He summed it up thus: “Any team will want to defend [their patch] at home.”
The Irish international played with a quiet intelligence against Toulouse, always in control, vigilant and even managed to pilfer a turnover, something that’s near and dear to any flanker’s heart.
He smiled: “Yeah, I was happy enough with that. It’s one of those when you go in to poach and the ball just pops up in your hand.
“It’s something I try to work on a bit, especially with [breakdown coach] Hugh Hogan each week. It’s something Stuart’s [Lancaster] talked to me about. Obviously he’s played number seven as well. Sometimes I’d think I need to be getting loads of turnovers every game, like [David] Pocock or whatever, all the good [No] 7s would do, but he said you have to be smart about it.
“If I go in for a ruck to try and get a turnover, then there’s one less man in a defensive line, so I could be messing things up for the rest of my team-mates. It’s something to be smart about and when there are opportunities, try and take them; it’s something I can constantly work on.”
The change in culture demands that teams go throttle down in training, particularly when it comes to the breakdown, as the risk of injury is enormous.
Van der Flier explained: “We wouldn’t do full contact breakdown, it’s a bit dangerous in open training to do it too often.
“Obviously a lot of injuries come from breakdown stuff, and when there’s not the full adrenaline of the game, someone goes 90 per cent in and someone goes 100 per cent in, it’s probably not a good idea. I do a good bit with Hugh [Hogan] after training, with a pad, sometimes in a suit, the padded suits, and I’d get him to hit me with a pad.
“You try to replicate it as best you can. It’s not a smart thing to get people cleaning you out in training. It’s not a good idea long-term.”
“He’s a very good player, gets turnovers and energetic around the park. I’ve played against him a couple of times. He’s a tough competition and you’ve got to be quick to the breakdown or else he will try and disrupt things. I find him a tough guy to play against, especially at the breakdown.”
Van der Flier is just relishing the chance to play these days, not worried by who’s coming back from injury, just concentrating on the tangibles of playing rugby and enjoying how much better it is to be on the pitch on those big days rather than the bench or the sideline.