Van der Flier misses out to O'Donnell as Schmidt prepares for his reunion with 'eyes of ice' Cotter
Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30
Joe Schmidt giveth, then he taketh away. Just when Josh van der Flier was beginning to feel good about life as an international rugby player, he finds himself dropped from the squad for the Six Nations finale against Scotland.
His loss is Tommy O'Donnell's gain, as Schmidt opted to freshen things up for tomorrow's battle for third place when he named his team yesterday.
Captain Rory Best overcame his calf injury in time to lead the side, meaning the head coach sticks closely to the side that overcame Italy last weekend.
However, nobody saw the decision to change his opensides coming as he decided to err on the side of caution as 22-year-old Van der Flier showed signs of "residual fatigue" in the wake of his first two caps.
The Leinster flanker, Schmidt explained, is already in bonus territory - winning his first two caps ahead of schedule having been selected ahead of O'Donnell for the defeat to England and win over Italy. "When he came into the environment at the beginning of the Six Nations; I said to him, 'Josh, this is a great learning opportunity for you, a little bit akin to, say, Robbie Henshaw. You're here, have a look at Sean O'Brien, Tommy O'Donnell ... this is a great window for you to train and learn from these guys because we think you have a future with us'," Schmidt recalled.
"There was never any indication that he was going to get opportunity to go out and start a Test match ... I know he's disappointed because he's a real competitor and he's played really well. So I totally understand his disappointment.
"They are decisions that you make and I'd be the first to admit that I know we don't get them right all the time but we try to and we try to reflect and think about what do the team need.
"Do they need a little bit of an injection of freshness? There are probably a few guys now who are starting to show signs of fatigue? But a guy like CJ (Stander) for example, he's had a bit of a rest in the last two games, and Rhys (Ruddock) has come on and done a really good job.
"Jamie (Heaslip) has been there and he's done it before and he's conditioned and ready for it. Josh has played two 80 minutes. That's a big step forward in the last 12 months."
O'Donnell, Schmidt hopes, will bring the athleticism and power Ireland need to combat an accomplished Scottish back-row tomorrow as Schmidt comes up against his old boss Vern Cotter whose work with Scotland is beginning to reap dividends.
Yesterday, the Ireland coach was asked what he'd learnt from the man he worked with at Bay of Plenty and Clermont Auvergne.
"I just found that he was a fantastic foil for me, that we actually enjoyed each other's company and that we offered different things to the team," he said.
"I learned so many things from him, just about being decisive, just about trying to grow the key leaders in a team if you're going to have a strong decision-making group on the pitch.
"Between the two of us, we really enjoyed coaching together. When you enjoy doing something with a group, you're always learning; being decisive, clear in what you deliver.
"I just found that he had a real ability to crystallise messages and deliver them. There's some things that I learned that; I don't try to do that he is. He drives an environment. 'Les yeux de glaces' was his nickname in France, the eyes of ice; he didn't have to say to much for you to know he was unhappy.
"His presence is such that he does certainly drive a group incredibly well.
"You pick things up and you don't specifically say, 'Oh, I learned that today'. They just merge as part of your coaching character because you've absorbed lessons from other people. I absorbed a lot from VC."
This is the seventh time the duo have faced each other since parting company in 2010 and Schmidt is still getting used to it.
"It's a little bit bizarre, his first-born was born at the same time as my youngest son," he recalled. "We were in the hospital together seeing our respective wives.
"Our wives are catching up with the family over the next few days. I'll catch up with Vern before the game and have a bit of a chat about everything but rugby.
"One of the really good things about rugby that people probably don't see is that some of the players and coaches have shared friendships that continue for a long period of time despite results, despite trying to plot the downfall of each other. And I don't think this weekend will be any different from that."