Van der Flier fired-up and eager for action
Flanker fully recovered from injury and fighting for a place in Leinster’s back row
Josh van der Flier in action against Castres: “Even coming back from injury you can’t afford a bad game because then you won’t play.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, be honest, open the kimono. Sometimes rugby can be as hopeful and positive as Josh van der Flier in full spate. The Flier is back, maybe not quite where he would like to be as a flanker but back and thinking of Connacht and Clermont and his place in the Leinster edifice.
Smiling, healthy and, like all the Leinster backrows, hungry as….well there is a story there. It’s about junior tennis players. It goes that on the tour the juniors are so hungry for ranking points and tournament entries that if they were told cannibalism gave them an edge they’d be fattening up their grannies in the back courts.
And so goes the fever pitch of competition in the Leinster backrow. On that Van der Flier doesn’t pretend that life is easy as he fearlessly rattles through his comrades’ finer points.
“Everyone is playing well,” he says in a jolly, ‘isn’t that great’ kind of way. “Even coming back from injury you can’t afford a bad game because then you won’t play.
“Dan [Leavy] has been brilliant and Jack Conan has been unbelievable as well and Seanie O’Brien] too. Everyone in the back row and Rhys [Ruddock] got man of the match there a few weeks ago.”
He’s on a roll now. Nothing much can stop him. He’s being too honest. Where are those deflection tactics the players get taught in media training?
Van der Flier didn’t start in the European quarter-final against Wasps, a game of redemption for Leinster with some scar tissue removed after last year’s barbecuing by the Premiership side. The bench it had to be but not where van der Flier wants to be.
“I was disappointed because everyone wants to start,” he says. “But it’s hard to know,” he adds before again drawing flattering portraits of Dan, Seanie, Jack and Rhys. Doubtlessly Jamie Heaslip would be there if he wasn’t injured.
“There are no complaints. I completely understood the selection. I had only played the one game against Cardiff so…if I was unbiased I wouldn’t have picked me either. You have to look at it in that way.”
Van der Flier is part of the cultural revolution, not Mao Zedong but Johnny Sexton. When Sexton switched off his safety and emptied the magazine into Leinster for their unforgivable failing to meet the standards of last season, people took notice.
Sexton credits a change of attitude and younger players punching through as a catalyst in the transformation. But van der Flier doesn’t see it that way, his head maybe buried in too many rucks and cleanouts and on his way to making a deep impression on Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
“I thought the culture was good last year,” he says brightly. “We just kept missing out on those small margins. The culture is brilliant, the younger players coming through are really good and that brings such energy. The coaches have been really brilliant as well . . . ”
Swell, but should the backrow not be doing more to protect their outhalf. Conversations very often return to Sexton. Maybe start a fight, it is suggested. Up the ante at least. Even that flat world tactic of landing a few bombs on the opposition’s head is taken without a frown.
“I suppose that’s what my dad would have said back in his day,” he says. “If someone did that you’d throw them a box or something or you’d find them in the next ruck.”
“But no it’s past starting a fight. It’s just kind of stupid and it could cost you the game. You throw a punch or do something stupid then that could be the game over or a red card.
“It’s the responsibility of the people around the 10. If I’m running a line off Johnny and I’m kind of not looking like I’m getting the ball, and they know Josh look, he’s not even interested, they can just run up and smash him.
“Run a real hard line, looking like I’m getting the ball on his outside, they can’t fire at him. They can’t shoot up at him because I can get the ball.”
Leinster needs van der Flier bristling and full of vim for these swing games. And the record against Connacht isn’t great.
“They beat us in the (Pro12) final last year,” he says.
And there’s motive now too.