Josh van der Flier: ‘These opportunities don’t come by so often’

Ireland flanker eager to take home Triple Crown after being in the crowd for 2004 win

There will be an endearing circularity about Josh van der Flier taking to the pitch against Scotland on Saturday in the final match of the series. The flanker was in the ground when Ireland beat the Scots in 2004 to win the Triple Crown.

For the 10-year-old master van der Flier, it was only in his wildest dreams that 18 years later he would end up lining out against Scotland for the chance of another Irish Triple Crown.

It was for the 2006 Six Nations that sponsors, Royal Bank of Scotland commissioned Edinburgh and London-based Hamilton & Inches to design and create a dedicated Triple Crown Trophy.

Prior to that there had been none. The trophy has been awarded since then with Ireland and Wales winning it four times each and England three. Scotland have never won the trophy with its last Triple Crown coming in 1990.

“Am I right in saying 2004 was the last time we won a trophy at home?” says van der Flier. “So yeah, it’s incredibly special to be a part of that. Certainly it’s exciting.

“I was at that game against Scotland for the Triple Crown in 2004, I would have been 11 . . . no, 10, I was born in April ‘93. It was incredible. I still remember it so well. I suppose when you’re that age, you’re just bewildered by the whole thing, really any game you go to.

“I remember going to school games and when I was a first year, going to the Wesley [College] senior games and thinking they’re just the most amazing things ever, and obviously international games were even more so. So yeah, it was pretty cool.”

Van der Flier also saw the last Triple Crown win for Ireland in the old Lansdowne Road, where both the north and south ends were terraces and failed to meet the specifications for international football. A few years later in 2007 the ground was demolished to make way for the current modern stadium, so his memory spans a little slice of rugby history.

“I can’t remember how often we went but we went a few times when I was younger,” he says. “I remember being on my dad’s shoulders in Lansdowne because I couldn’t see. I had to be small enough if I was on his shoulders.”

The prospect of playing for an actual trophy has become another piece of the motivational engine within the Ireland squad with something tangible rather than notional to play for. The provincial victories, if they ever arrive, only do so after a whole season of competing.

There is something to be said for holding silverware after just five games, although, three in reality as France and Italy are excluded from the Triple Crown. A prize at the end can make the going easier.

"Definitely, yeah," he says. "We spoke about it throughout the tournament. These opportunities don't come by so often. It's probably a bit easier in many ways because with Leinster, say, you're playing URC games and you could be 10 months away from the end of your goals or from the prospect of silverware.

"I'd say as it's gone on there's been a great buzz, all the way along. But definitely with the prospect of silverware and finishing off the Six Nations on a high by trying to put in a big performance and right a few wrongs, there's a good buzz around the place."

That could be helpful. Although Scotland have beaten Ireland just once in the last 11 meetings, they arrive with a number of backrow players in form including Hamish Watson and Rory Darge, who has made this his breakthrough season.

The 22-year-old made his debut off the bench against Wales last month in Cardiff. Along with Watson and Magnus Bradbury, it is a new look Scotland backrow.

“Yeah, they have very good players,” says van der Flier. “Rory Darge has been brilliant. I played against him early on in the season. He’s been really good for them and he has been performing well the last few weeks.

“Big breakdown threat, good ball carriers . . . Hamish Watson obviously as well, he’s a Lions player, extremely dangerous and a really good ball carrier and great over the ball. Then you have [Matt] Fagerson and Bradbury, all good players, yeah good offloads, good carriers of the ball.”

In that memorable date in the life of the 28-year-old flanker, he may recall that in 2004 Ireland won the match 37-16. Openside flanker David Wallace scored one of Ireland's five tries. That is karma.