Thursday 14 November 2019

Battered van der Flier is left to ponder another four years of 'learnings'

Disappointed: Josh van der Flier. Photo: Juan Gasparini/Sportsfile
Disappointed: Josh van der Flier. Photo: Juan Gasparini/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Josh van der Flier limped his way into the room. Battered and bruised, his swollen face looked as if he had just gone 12 punishing rounds in a heavyweight boxing clash.

One side of van der Flier's face had already been stitched up. It was only a matter of time before the other half needed the same treatment. It was a perfect reflection of the assault that we had just witnessed on the pitch.

Fighting back the tears, the emotion poured from a man who had given everything to the cause but he could not get anywhere near to laying a glove on the All Blacks.

All the while the devastated van der Flier attempted to explain what had went wrong, the New Zealand players rolled into the same cramped room.

Wearing pristine blazers, they looked as if they hadn't even broken a sweat. They certainly weren't beaten up anything like van der Flier was.

When Dan Leavy suffered that horrific knee injury, it was always likely to have a detrimental impact on Ireland's World Cup chances. Those worst fears were confirmed.

Leavy was such a central figure in last year's success that it is hardly a coincidence Ireland regressed without him. That is not to suggest that they would have beaten the All Blacks with Leavy, because they wouldn't have, but his ruthless aggression in the back-row was sorely missed.

As was Seán O'Brien's, but who knows if he could have rediscovered his form, such has been the punishment his body has taken.

Ireland's back-row were utterly out-classed by the All Blacks whose ability to seamlessly switch positions makes them a very dangerous proposition. The fluidity was a world away from what Ireland were able to produce.

Kieran Read's outstanding performance will live long in the memory as the brilliant No 8 rolled back the years in stunning style.

With the majority of the senior players taking a back seat in terms of the media duties, it was left to the likes of van der Flier to paint the picture of what was a broken dressing-room.

"It was the toughest emotionally anyway," he admitted.

"It's a really tough one to take, there was a lot of build-up to this first World Cup. I came in just after the end of the last World Cup so it's been a long time waiting for this and it's disappointing to go out like that with a disappointing performance.

"It's obviously incredibly disappointing for (Greg) Feeky, Joe (Schmidt) and (Rory) Besty. But for us, we kind of felt that we owed them a bit more than that performance.

"I'm looking forward to the next time I hopefully get the green jersey on and put in some good performances in the Six Nations. I think that's all we can do. I'm looking forward to getting back into Leinster and getting back to work."

That's the reality facing the players now. They will be given a week or two off before the page is quickly turned. That can't come soon enough for most, but this anger and disappointment will linger for a long time yet.

"It is frustrating that we didn't really put proper pressure on them," van der Flier continued.

"I thought our defence was quite good at the start, and then just a couple of discipline issues, it's hard to see what they were for but we gave away a couple of penalties and knocked on a few balls at crucial times, didn't really get to put that pressure on."

And that is what grates most for a squad who never fired a shot at the All Blacks. For that, there will always be a black mark next to their name.

"I suppose there always is," van der Flier added, the emotion welling up.

"Hopefully this group, aside from Besty, will be able to take learnings from it and bounce on."

And with that, van der Flier hobbled his way back out, pondering another four years of 'learnings'.

Irish Independent

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