Cullen praises contribution of model pro Van der Flier in Leinster triumph
‘In terms of a role model for other players to look to and how you manage yourself, he does an amazing job’
Leinster’s Josh van der Flier and Robbie Henshaw tackle Tadhg Beirne of Munster during the Guinness Pro 14 semi-final at the RDS. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Josh van der Flier played like someone who had never been away, a remarkable achievement considering his last game of rugby was for Ireland in the Six Nations against France in February.
The Leinster openside flanker deservedly won the man-of-the-match accolade for a towering performance: omnipresent at the breakdown, setting the tone and tempo in getting off the defensive line and putting huge pressure on the Munster carriers and distributors.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen spoke about a model player ahead of the semi-final in the diligent manner in which he worked to get back from groin surgery. The initial prognosis was that he would not play again this season but he defied those parameters and the quality of his contribution was staggering in Leinster’s 24-9 victory. The numbers, 16 tackles and eight carries are academic in that the fail to fully convey the impact he enjoyed.
“He was incredible, wasn’t he?” said Cullen when asked about the openside’s contribution . “Considering he got injured two years in a row against France, one he does his ACL and then the other one he does his groin.
“I thought he was going to be gone for the rest of the season so to get himself back and in such good shape, it’s a credit to him. As I said, in terms of a role model for other players to look to and how you manage yourself, he does an amazing job. [I was] delighted to see him go so well today.
Leinster’s victory was underpinned by a more cohesive second-half performance, something to which Cullen alluded when he observed: “The first half was probably a little bit bitty. We never really got into a huge amount of flow in our game. We were a little bit inaccurate around the set piece on a few occasions.
“There were a few times the ball went to ground or a little knock-on, so I thought it was a bit scrappy. It was nice that we got a penalty just before half-time which gets us into the lead. It was the flip side of the week before, where we didn’t manage that period particularly well.
“I thought the intent was good in the second half, we created some good opportunities; the line break from Seán Cronin that leads to [Niall] Scannell getting sin binned is an important moment. Then the frontrow do incredibly well the way they interlinked [for the first try], one to three to two to score, which is always good.
“I thought we held our shape pretty well defensively. Munster had one passage of play in our 22 where we managed to shut them out; Scott Fardy comes up with a good turnover in the corner. After that [there was] a little bit of gloss on the scoreline in the end. We are pleased.
“It was far from a perfect performance but the lads got the job done. Off the back of the week that we had the week before and the disappointment, we are delighted to be back here at the RDS. It was always going to be a tough challenge getting up from that final regardless of the result.”
He confirmed that Devin Toner had twisted his knee in contact and would undergo a scan after being helped off. Leinster can now look forward to defending the title they won last year against Ulster’s conquerors in Celtic Park next Saturday.
He smiled when he mentioned that most of the Glasgow team were Rangers supporters, so he hoped that the Celtic fans would get in behind Leinster. On a more serious note he said of Glasgow’s emphatic victory over Ulster: “Yeah they sure were impressive last night. We played Glasgow a hell of a lot last year, not so much this year. We lost to them here a few weeks ago.
“A well coached team, Dave Rennie was someone who I admired from afar and when I was still playing I went over to the Chiefs and watched them train and go about their business. He’s an impressive coach and it’s going to be a very tough challenge for our guys. I thought they were very clinical last night against Ulster, scoring seven tries is no mean feat.
“[We’re] off to Celtic Park, hopefully we’ll have a good crowd of Leinster supporters over there. Glasgow rugby players all support Rangers I’ve been told so everyone of the Celtic fans in Glasgow should be supporting us. Hopefully we’ll have a good crowd over there.”