Josh van der Flier enjoying the responsibility that comes with Ireland seniority

28-year-old flanker has been given the freedom to build on his running game

Japan’s Siosaia Fifita  tackles Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier during the match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph:  Donall Farmer/AFP via Getty Images

Japan’s Siosaia Fifita tackles Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier during the match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Donall Farmer/AFP via Getty Images

 

In the absence of Ireland’s Lions and rested trio of veterans, Peter O’Mahony was, by some distance, the most experienced player in Ireland’s 37-man squad for this summer’s home two Tests. Now that the 31-year-old has also been allowed to put his feet up after winning his 76th cap in last week’s win over Japan, the leadership has grown younger still in a squad initially containing a dozen uncapped players.

It will be a major surprise if Andy Farrell affords all of them their Test debuts this Saturday against the USA Eagles (kick-off 7.15pm, live on RTÉ and Channel 4). Even so, with Jordan Larmour and Chris Farrell back with their provinces, players such as Robert Baloucoune and James Hume will surely come into the mix, and Ryan Baird, Gavin Coombes and Craig Casey are in line for their first test starts

Hence, players such as Josh van der Flier, 28-years-old and 32 caps, have been thrust into the roles of experienced leaders.

“I’m really enjoying it,” says the openside flanker. “It’s certainly crept up on me anyway. I was looking around and I’ve probably played more than a lot of the lads here, or I’d be a lot older than some of the guys here.”

“I can remember how good the likes of Tommy O’Donnell and Seán O’Brien were to me when I first came in; Jamie Heaslip as well was great. All the backrows really helped me out. It was nice to help me out. I feel responsibility in a way to pass that on and help the lads out who have come in.

“It can be tricky coming into a new environment. Everybody is nervous, I’d still get a small bit of nerves coming into camp. Coming in for your first time as well, or even if you haven’t been in that much, it certainly can be a nervous environment to be in. It’s nice to be in a position to pass on some experience and help people out.”

It helps Van der Flier in his new-found role as senior payer that his form has arguably never been better. Told by Andy Farrell to augment his voracious work ethic and superb tackling with improved ball carrying, Van der Flier has duly done so to striking effect.

“My whole career, I’ve always been trying to tweak things, work my footwork a bit more, that kind of thing. There’s been a few things I’ve worked on but one of them is trying to get up as much speed as I can in the carries. There are times when you’re running into a bit of a wall where you need to get up as much speed and be as powerful as you can into the carry.

“Another thing I’ve been working on is keeping my legs under me. I look at look at lads like Caelan Doris, the way he breaks tackles, he keeps his legs pumping.”

Josh van der Flier during Ireland’s training session at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Blanchardstown on Tuesday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Josh van der Flier during Ireland’s training session at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Blanchardstown on Tuesday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

In all of this he has sought advice from several coaches, be it Hugh Hogan and Stuart Lancaster.

“He has been trying to encourage me to carry a bit more aggressively, a bit more power on to it. He has definitely been helpful. Then here in camp, Fogs [John Fogarty] has been great, Paulie [O’Connell] as well. And Robin McBryde as well has helped me on different things.

“I had a bit of bit of a chat during the last pre-season with Denis Leamy around ball carrying. You get chatting with loads of different coaches and you kinda take little insights from people.”

Van der Flier tries to keep a lid on doing extras in training, particularly at the tail end of such a long season.

“A few years ago I would have almost run myself into the ground a bit, doing extras. That’s maybe exaggerating a little bit but I wouldn’t have been as smart about it I suppose.

“But mainly it’s probably been mentally, looking at different video clips of people ball carrying and trying to do visualisation around my ball carrying. It’s something I do for my tackling as well and all areas of my game really; trying to rehearse it mentally.

“I find that quite effective, especially in a long season like this one I guess where it’s probably not so efficient to be doing a tough training session with all the games played and the load on the body there’s been. I’d be careful enough not to do too much in terms of physical extras but definitely on the mental side, I’ve found that works well.”

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