Wednesday 24 May 2017

Van der Flier hits stumbling block in race for Lions spot

Van Der Flier's injury while playing for Leinster last month slowed his momentum. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Van Der Flier's injury while playing for Leinster last month slowed his momentum. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Josh van der Flier will make his injury comeback ahead of his schedule in Cardiff.

In blue rather than green, however, and in the ancient Arms Park grounds, not the magnificent Millennium next door. Not as he wanted it to be but he must take what he gets.

Josh van der Flier put his hand up for Lions discussion with his displays in November. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Josh van der Flier put his hand up for Lions discussion with his displays in November. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

No matter; the Leinster back-rower just wants to make up for lost time; it is only weeks since he was hoping to challenge for a berth amongst Ireland's world-class back-row in this Six Nations Championship.

Now, in Irish rugby's constantly shifting game of snakes and ladders amongst the back-row - although the indomitable Jamie Heaslip appears to always be on that line between 99 and 100 - Van der Flier is the latest to have slipped down a nasty, slithering snake.

Impacts

One of Ireland's Chicago heroes last autumn, Van der Flier had been reprising his bench impacts deep into the final quarter of Ireland's two opening Championship games before calamity struck in the RDS against Edinburgh.

The only consolation from the busted shoulder he suffered that night was that it didn't need surgery but the initial prognosis posted little chance of him seeing a rugby field before April.

Difficult to shrug that disappointment off, however many pain-killers he gobbled to ease the throbbing tumult.

"Jamie Heaslip did this a couple of years ago and he was back in three weeks," he says wanly.

"I know he's a bit of a freak but I'm just trying to do everything I can to get back as soon as possible." His anxiety is palpable, understandable.

Since his violent removal from affairs of selection debate, Dan Leavy has leapfrogged him to become a 24th man while Peter O'Mahony's rehabilitation into full fitness and form continues to accelerate.

Having started the year as a prospective Lions candidate, he must now make his move from the back of the pack, attempting to elbow his way beyond a busy queue of rivals.

"It's good to see them doing well, but then again, yeah looking at Lions stuff, to be honest I haven't really been doing that, every week there's a back-row getting man of the match! There's a lot of competition, and that's just getting on the Leinster team.

"Everyone wants to be on the Lions tour, but you can only do that by focusing on each week. I know people will say they're not thinking of it, but everyone knows it's at the end of the year. I'm just focusing on how I play for the club, and see how it goes.

"International games are as big as they get, so I suppose it's better to be playing well in them, that's better for selection, but the European Cup is big too so it depends on what Warren Gatland and the coaches think.

"I suppose coming on from how well November went, there was a small bit of disappointment at not being involved, but then it was great to be involved when you look at the kind of players on the fringes - like Dan Leavy, Jack Conan, Peter O'Mahony

"You're gutted not to be starting, but you look at all the lads behind you and you're delighted to be on the bench in that way. It would have been nice.

"November was unusual, came on after 22 minutes in the first game, off the bench, then the next game was after 28 minutes, so I had a heap of game-time, and then started the Australia game.

Pleased

"I kind of got used to that, and then it's a bit of a shock only getting about ten minutes or so, that's the way it goes, I'm pretty pleased to be involved."

Things could be better, he acknowledges sanguinely. Then again, they could be a whole lot worse.

"Straight after the injury I could barely move, it was absolute agony. And then it just settled down really, really quickly over a couple of days.

"If they had wanted to do surgery on it, if it had been that bad then it would have been the end of the season."

Time then, once again, to put his shoulder to the wheel, even if he may not do so for three weeks as Leinster have no games and therefore is unlikely to make an impression until the end of the month.

"I was pushing hard to get back for this week but unfortunately it's probably a bit late now," he concedes grimly.

"So I don't know. There are no Leinster matches for three weeks after this so I suppose I'll be aiming towards the Cardiff game.

"But if there was a match you never know, I could be good next week. It could be a couple of weeks. It just depends how I progress. I have markers to hit.

"The medical staff have given me targets I have to hit before I can do certain things. So once I keep ticking them off as quick as I can."

Only then can he start to climb the ladder once more.

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