Tuesday 25 June 2019

Josh van der Flier all set for lift-off with Leinster

Josh van der Flier
Josh van der Flier

Marcus Ó Buachalla

With a name like Josh van der Flier, he's a headline writer's dream. Unfortunately, he's not a winger so the opportunity to play around with the Van der Flier name will most likely be few and far between.

But throw in the fact that the surname originates from the Netherlands where his grandparents are from and maybe all is not lost for the headline writers.

In his three appearances this season for the Leinster senior team, the number 11 and number 14 jerseys have been nowhere near his peg in the dressing room but he has shown an affinity for Total Rugby when lining out in the back-row.

The 21-year-old former Wesley College student has relished the experience.

"Whenever I've had an opportunity to play at another level in rugby and take a step up it's been a huge boost so it was no different when I got the shout from Matt that I would be starting against Zebre in the Pro12. Of course I was nervous but I couldn't wait to pull on that jersey for the first time."

His debut was in October in the Guinness Pro12, away from home in the Stadio XXV Aprile in a game that Ian Madigan grabbed all the headlines with a man of the match performance from out-half. But elsewhere Leinster's No 7 was going about his business quietly but with ruthless efficiency.


As debuts go, he loved it. Not that he didn't have his reservations.

"It was a great day and I've benefited hugely from it. Just the confidence that you get from knowing that you are in the coaches' thoughts but also that you came through the 80 minutes and that really stands to you whether that is back at base and training with the senior squad or playing with the Leinster 'A's in the B&I Cup or with UCD in the AIL.

"I do look back at it now though and the 80 minutes and the step up did catch me off guard a little. The pace, the tempo, the physicality, everything about the game was that bit bigger, better, faster to what I had experienced before. But I got through it and I'd like to think I wasn't out of place in that company."

Interesting to hear him talk so candidly about the step up but it also backs up what players have been saying for generations before. That there is no accounting for match fitness and the intensity that the match day brings.

"As much as you think you are going well in training, in some ways nothing can prepare you for the actual match day and playing in the Pro12 for Leinster. But, as I said, having done that once, you just want to experience it again and again. To test yourself regularly in that company and see how you come out."

He has done so twice since his debut. Against Ulster in the RDS and away to Cardiff. Both opportunities were from the bench but against Ulster he played the guts of 60 minutes in a packed RDS.

"Luck played its part definitely that day. Unfortunately, there was an injury to Shane Jennings in the warm-up so suddenly I was drafted from being number 24 in the squad to number 20. Then unfortunately Jamie Heaslip picked up his shoulder injury early enough in the game and he had to come off.

"It meant a switch for Jack Conan to No 8 and I went on at seven with Jordi Murphy moving across to six. So there was no chance for nerves or a build-up of any kind really.

"The jump from 24 to sub to coming on was all within half an hour or so. You never want an injury to happen to a player. We all get on very well, they're your mates as much as anything and you only want for them and by extension the team to go well. But when those injuries happen you have to be ready to react and to do a job."

Opportunities from injury are all well and good but the young man from Wicklow admits that the next step is opportunities off his own back.

"The goal for me now is definitely to look to challenge regularly based on form and based on my own ability. Nobody wants to depend on the misfortune of others but I also look around me and the players ahead of me and I have to be patient.

"All international-class back-rowers. I have to be smart too and realise that there is a huge opportunity there to learn from these guys and to see what parts of my game I can bring on by watching them in action."

For all his ambition there is also a humility and an appreciation that he is still part of the Leinster Academy, still learning the ropes.

"This season I am definitely in bonus territory. I was involved in the pre-season friendlies against Northampton away and Ulster at home but to now also add three full senior caps is something that I hadn't planned for.

"So I amn't really looking too far ahead at all. I am just trying to live in the moment and as I said learn from those players ahead of me. Shane Jennings has been excellent and very accommodating with me. Helping with my game the whole time."

That sense of collegiality and everyone batting for each other has been a pleasant surprise.


"In some ways that has surprised me as I have progressed through the Academy. Lads who I am competing with for a spot have been very supportive and very obliging with their time and their advice.

"Playing alongside Jordi and Jack for example in the recent Pro12 game, they kept on talking to me during the game and some of the advice was basic stuff like keeping it simple, taking a breath, or relaxing, taking it easy at certain moments. You can get caught up in the whole thing, can be nervous with the atmosphere in the RDS or whatever but there was two younger players again imparting their knowledge on me for the betterment of the team."

Over the next six weeks opportunities will come knocking. He knows he has to be ready but he also knows that the focus needs to be more immediate than that.

"We all know that there is an opportunity during the Six Nations to put the hand up but you can easily get too far ahead of yourself. You have to just keep plugging away and keep trying to develop as a player day in and day out. If opportunities come my way, great, but I know where my focus lies. The rest is up to Matt and Girvan."

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