Josh van der Flier learning that small margins make a big difference
Openside disappointed at missing out against Scotland after making international breakthrough
Josh van der Flier and Richardt Strauss tackle Connacht’s Bundee Aki during the Guinness Pro 12 game in Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Josh van der Flier took missing out on Ireland’s final Six Nations Championship match against Scotland about as well as you’d expect, trying to dilute the disappointment with pragmatism, but the aftertaste remained unpalatable.
It’s the way it should be because no 22-year-old talented, ambitious young player is going to err on the philosophical when weighed against a primary urge to play. He was carrying a couple of knocks but for him that was incidental.
“It was a funny feeling, obviously you’re keen to be involved and really want to play but I did have a couple of knocks from the (previous) weekend. He (Ireland coach Joe Schmidt) obviously felt Tommy (O’Donnell) was fresher which was the way it goes. I was a bit disappointed with it, I suppose.”
Disappointed sure but he worked hard to accept the rationale, continuing: “He (Schmidt) does (explain). My experience with Joe, and with all the coaches really, is that they’ve all been really honest with me. That’s what you want. If they’re honest, then they’ll give you things to work on, things you’ve done well. That’s what you need.
“Once you get that positive or negative feedback, as long as it’s honest, then you can take it away and know what to work on. It was surreal (not being involved) in a way. I felt I really wanted to be out there playing, whereas a year before, or even a few weeks before, you were just happy to be in the squad.
“It was kind of annoy(ing) . . . it was a good thing that I was disappointed not to be playing. It was very surreal for me watching the game thinking I wish I was out (there); I feel like I should be, basically, I’m disappointed I’m not out there.”
The Six Nations was a massive learning environment for the young openside. So what did he draw down on the most? “The small margins were the biggest thing I noticed in international rugby. There’s such a focus on the tiny details that can change a game.
“It’s just one moment in a game and let’s say you lose that moment it could be a lineout, could be an opportunity to turn it over at a ruck; they score a try and that could be the game. It’s the small margins, focusing on my own role within the team, doing that as well possible and not worrying about what everyone else is doing.”
Van der Flier and O’Donnell should get a chance to square off against one another at the Aviva stadium on Saturday evening as Leinster and Munster collide in a match that will have a huge input into how the end of season pans out in the Guinness Pro12.
Friendships forged in Irish camp, will be put aside for 80 minutes. It can be slightly disconcerting when talking to the younger generation of players about the whole Leinster-Munster rivalry because the window of recall is quite small and muddled for the most part.
Van der Flier is no exception. He watched several on television without attending and when asked whether he remembered any players that caught his eye, he alluded to a former rugby life in the number nine jersey.
“I was playing scrumhalf at the time so I remember watching (Peter) Stringer against, I can’t remember who it was, was it Guy Easterby maybe, yeah? The two of them against each other and obviously the O’Driscoll/D’Arcy kind of thing was pretty impressive.”
The 7-6 defeat to Connacht last weekend gave him a firsthand insight into the ferocity of the interprovincial duels, particularly one particular hit from Connacht centre Bundee Aki. “He smashed me once, I remember that,” Van der Flier laughs. “I can still feel it a bit!
“I made one tackle on him, yeah, and he then got through one of my tackles as well so I suppose he got one up on me. But he’s an unbelievable player, really. He’s very, very strong.”
Munster’s backrow and the team in general will present a whole new set of problems. Van der Flier doesn’t feel any additional pressure now that he’s an international other than the expectation that he completes his tasks to a high level.
“It’s obviously a bit different now when I’m expected to perform more than I was at the start of the season when it was my first few games and the expectation wasn’t quite as high. There’s still that drive to stay ahead of other competition in the (Leinster) backrow.”
He’s happy to be measured against whatever yardstick; at least that means he’s playing.