Josh van der Flier’s Ireland career continues to take off
Leinster flanker ready to make impact against Australia after showing against All Blacks
Josh Van der Flier: made his senior Leinster debut just over two years ago. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Two years ago, almost to the day, Ireland beat Australia 26-23 at the Aviva Stadium. Josh van der Flier had made his senior Leinster debut the previous month, October 2104, in a Pro12 game against Zebre.
On Saturday, he hopes to be part of the Ireland team to take on the Wallabies. When it was suggested that he’s covered the ground relatively quickly in career terms from that starting point – 32 Leinster appearances and four Ireland caps – the 23-year-old smiled and described it as “a good while ago”. In the lifespan of a player, it’s probably a reasonable assessment.
In Ireland’s two matches against New Zealand he’s enjoyed 54 and 58 minutes, on both occasions making an impact from the bench – last Saturday in the slightly unfamiliar role of blindside flanker, replacing the injured CJ Stander. The remit was slightly different allowing him more latitude to carry ball, something he managed superbly.
He explains: “It was very different to the game against New Zealand [in Chicago]. I think I carried the ball once in 50 minutes or 60 minutes. It’s just the way the game [in the Aviva Stadium] was; we had a lot of the ball. All the forwards had a lot of carries, it was just one of those games.”
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt’s attention to detail ensured that Ireland had contingencies in the event of losing Stander, Seán O’Brien or Jamie Heaslip and had prepped accordingly in training, so van der Flier had done some, if not many, run-throughs in the blindside flanker role.
He prefers the number seven jersey but like any ambitious young player isn’t going to turn his nose up at any starting slot. “I’m trying to work on my all round game, carrying would have been the biggest work-on from the first New Zealand game and then it went well in the last game.
“The break downs would be a big thing for me. Seánie [O’Brien] would be good bit ahead of me in terms of poaching and [David]) Pocock, players like that they’re kind of the gold standard for poaching; and Seánie obviously. So I suppose, carrying went well the last day and tackling was good the week before.
“I’d say I’m most happy with my ball carrying compared to last year when I was getting picked for tackling and defending. This year my ball carrying has been a bit better.”
Van der Flier enjoys working in tandem with O’Brien, albeit that they have only been backrow cohorts on less than a handful of occasions for club and country. They did combine for one steal last Saturday. “I love playing with him. He is unbelievable at poaching. I made one tackle and he got the poach so it was a bit of fun.”
Saturday should offer a further benchmarking process for van der Flier as he tries to contain and curtail the influence of players of the calibre of Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Lopeti Timani and David Pocock. The young Irish flanker describes them all as “brilliant” but singles out Pocock.
“These are the games you want to be playing, especially as a backrow. Pocock is as good a seven as you get really; he’s probably been one of the best if not the best sevens of the last five or so years.”
There are occasions in matches when a player has to back his skill-set with a guarantee of the happy-ever-after. So what did Schmidt make of his attempted offload, out of the tackle against the All Blacks last Saturday?
“I mentioned it after the game. He said I did it right but maybe not the offload. It was a bit of a silly moment.” He’s being a little hard; execution is the ultimate arbiter in determining how good the decision.
Van der Flier continues: “I wouldn’t have thrown it if it wasn’t on. I saw [Andrew] Trimble in the corner of my eye and he would have scored if he had got the ball.
“That’s what was going through my head then but I was probably too close to the ground when I tried to throw it and it didn’t come off. If it had come off I’d have been the hero. Maybe try throw it earlier next time or not at all, I suppose.”