Friday 20 July 2018

Leinster's tackle machine Van der Flier stays grounded

Leinster's Josh van der Flier. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Josh van der Flier. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

To the casual observer whose access to stats only runs so deep, the tackle count is the best measure available of a player's defensive contribution.

Behind the closed doors of a professional rugby set-up, however, each hit is graded and rated for impact, meaning the overall number is not as important as the quality of each tackle.

Josh van der Flier's contribution of 34 tackles during the recent win over Connacht is a new Guinness PRO14 record and stands alone as a remarkable total, but the young flanker isn't patting himself on the back too hard.

It was a tiring outing for the 24-year-old who was stood down for the game against Ulster but is expected to return for Sunday's home game against Glasgow Warriors.

"I was actually quite sore the next day but nothing too bad," he said. "I remember thinking during the game, 'I'm making a lot of tackles here', and after the game I was thinking it was probably my most ever.

"But I thought it was around the 25 mark. I knew it was more than I had made before so I was pretty surprised afterwards to hear how many it was. It was good.

"Ross Molony got 29 and Max Deegan was 25, I think. It was just one of those games. Twenty-nine is an outrageous amount of tackles for any game. I think it was just Connacht hold onto the ball a lot, and they ran at the forwards a lot as well.

"As well as that, they had a few big phases of play in our 22 so I think it just happened to be a high-tackling game.

"Also, them having the ball for a lot of time in the 22. I'd say if anyone else was in that position they would have made a few as well.

"I was happy enough. When I first came into Leinster and Ireland U-20s, it was 'no missed tackles, that's brilliant'.

"Now it's kind of, 'Oh well you soaked a few tackles, you had a few tackles where you made them and they ended up a few yards past you before you managed to get them down' so it's kind of you have to aim to be... you can have no missed tackles but a few that get behind you.

"I had a few tackles that I soaked a lot and gave them a good bit of yards or they got an offload away, those kind of things which you're not too pleased with but happy enough overall.

"There are always things to improve. Looking on the tackles as individual tackles, there are things I could have done better but overall I was pretty happy."

The ability to keep getting up to make the next hit is the result of the flanker's hard work on the training field.

"I've always worked hard on my fitness," he said.

"It's been something I kind of have to focus on because the role of a No 7 - I suppose (Richie) McCaw made it that way - is that you always have to do as much work as possible.

"He kind of set the standard there. Everyone is trying to be as good as he was.

"I wouldn't be the biggest lad, compare me to Rhys Ruddock, Jack Conan, any of those lads. They'd be a lot bigger than me, Seán O'Brien too.

"So I'm not going to run over the top of people the way they would. I have to bring it in other areas. Work-rate is something I can try to bring in."

Although the Scots are out of the qualification race, Van der Flier is expecting another busy day at the coal-face at the RDS this weekend,

"They're a really good side and they obviously beat us in the PRO14 just a week before the November internationals," he said.

"They're a really dangerous side, they hold onto the ball well. When we played them over there we missed a couple of tackles and they ran the length of the pitch.

"They're that good a side, they're very clinical so we have to be on top of our game defensively."

Leinster have just the man for the job.

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