Monday 11 December 2017

I wouldn't have picked myself either, admits Van der Flier of Wasps omission as he targets Clermont clash

Untimely injury setback has relegated fearsome flanker in selection battles for both club and country this spring

Josh van der Flier pictured at the rebrand launch of Rugby Players Ireland. Photo: INPHO
Josh van der Flier pictured at the rebrand launch of Rugby Players Ireland. Photo: INPHO
David Kelly

David Kelly

Getting team selection right is all about balance.

The more options a coach has, naturally, the easier the tight-rope walk.

We remember hearing Roy Hodgson, when he was an international football manager who knew precisely what he was doing, before becoming one who didn't, lamenting the shortcomings of which we speak.

"Terry Venables can pick Gascoigne, Beardsley and Ince," he said of England's manager before Euro '96. "Any of them could get into my side. I get to pick Sforza, Sforza or Sforza. Usually, I pick Sforza."

Conor O'Shea may have felt the same way as the former Switzerland boss when Sergio Parisse and 14 players who weren't Sergio Parisse stumbled through the spring.

Leinster have no such worries; their back-row alone is a microcosm of an extraordinary orchard of ripe, juicy riches which is at once the envy of Europe and the firmest reminder of their calamitous continental sojourn last term.

An abundance in choice doesn't guarantee success; many will argue that the national coach regularly erred in his back-row permutations this year; sacrificing those who could plunder and construct for others who could only pummel and destroy.

Even before Josh van der Flier's international campaign was shattered by injury, it was difficult to contradict the notion that, formidable as Ireland's back-row may have been on paper, upon grass, they were becalmed.

When his temporary exile was over, Leinster then faced a similar dilemma for their Champions Cup tie against Wasps, not to mention the added burden of a crocked Jamie Heaslip.

Again, Van der Flier missed out but only because the balance of Leinster's team and their style of rugby allowed them to flow, particularly Seán O'Brien as he returned to his gambolling best amongst open prairies.

Alongside him, Dan Leavy and Jack Conan continue to demonstrate their prodigious repayment of a lengthy, mutual investment in patience and perseverance.

And so, while Van der Flier, only recently a hero of Chicago, could justifiably claim in his own tongue "disappointment" and "gutted" as responses to his initial Six Nations exclusion, he is much more sanguine about his eviction from Leinster's starting XV.

"I completely understood the selection," he says, after Leo Cullen's successful selection for the quarter-final was justified as the back-row completely neutralised the base of Wasps' free-flowing, attacking game.

"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 but no matter how much you understand selection it is still disappointing not to be starting.

"Everyone is playing well. That's the good thing about playing in a competitive environment. Even coming back from injury you can't afford a bad game at all because then you won't play .

"Dan has been brilliant, Jack Conan has been unbelievable as well and Seánie too. Everyone in the back-row. Rhys Ruddock got man of the match there a few weeks ago. It's pretty competitive alright.

"I was disappointed because everyone wants to start but it's hard to know."

Leinster, as they must, will shuffle their pack for Connacht as Clermont loom a week later; if afforded a start, it may provide Van der Flier with a timely audition but collective responsibility must outweigh individual ambition.

"You have to focus on the team performance but obviously everyone wants to play well. I obviously want to play well and everyone wants to be on that team sheet for Clermont, so I suppose that's in the back of everyone's mind.

"But we just have to focus on putting in a good team performance. It's one of those things, you know you shouldn't be thinking about that game but everyone obviously has it in the back of their mind."

Irish Independent

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