Saturday 25 November 2017

Little black book helping Van der Flier write his next script

Ireland's Josh van der Flier trains with the squad at Carton House, Maynooth yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland's Josh van der Flier trains with the squad at Carton House, Maynooth yesterday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Barely there a wet week and already Josh van der Flier is taking liberties.

Got his own room, he has. Thinks he's the bees knees. Loves himself. Buried in a book, wouldn't look at you half the time. And if you were sharing a room with him, he wouldn't talk to you if you left the wet towel on the bed.

Time to take this clearly rampant ego-maniac to task. But then a wonderfully expressive moon-shaped grin creases his cherubic figures and the mood has gone.

He can't help himself, you see.

Give him a job and he will do it. All day. Hitting rucks. Check. Making tackles. Check. Just don't ask him to do too much at once. Not yet, anyway.

Which, for someone who, in just a short few months, has made his Champions Cup debut and held his own against triple European champions, before becoming the undoubted breakthrough star for his country, is more than a little arresting.

But it is true; most Leinster fans will have watched their club's Academy documentary on YouTube; Van der Flier and three of his club housemates featured in one episode.

Suffice to say, the Wicklow man with the exotic name would not be a kindred spirit of those annoying multi-tasking folk who pepper Dublin's sky-scraping offices.

One thing at a time. Please.

"The lads always give me a really hard time because I would be on my phone or watching TV or something," he reveals.

"They'd be asking me a question or saying something and it just wouldn't register.

"My mum would be the same. She'd be reading a book or doing something and you'd be talking to her, but she wouldn't have a clue what would be going on. I don't know what it is."

One hesitates to suggest that someone possessed of such a personality may not prosper within the hot-house atmosphere of international rugby, where the sternest questions are asked repeatedly and, more often than not, while one is engaged in actions that replicate the effect of a minor car crash.

Then again, when your job is to repeatedly blast prone bodies from the wreckage, myopic focus can be an advantage.

But there is much more; without the incessant tackling and link-play of the classical openside, Joe Schmidt wouldn't let him in the front gates, let alone enjoy the lavish comforts of a Carton House room to himself.

"The focus thing is kind of helpful with rugby," he concedes.

"But it's also good to be able to multi-task in terms of defending and trying to mark who you're on, and also trying to look who's outside you, so I suppose it's probably better to be able to see loads of different things.

"I would be good at focusing on things to work on during training too but multi-tasking is definitely something I could work on."

The new boys have their laptops to hoover up the intensive array of information that must be absorbed - Mike Ross told us last week it is like a "different language".

Van der Flier has been spotted devotedly jotting down notes in his little black book.

"You can have all the stuff on laptops and in notebooks that you want," says assistant coach Richie Murphy "But it is on the pitch where you need all that information to come out as a competed story."

Van der Flier's notes have bloomed into some wonderful pictorial essays; seamlessly synchronised with fellow bolter Ultan Dillane in Twickenham, signalled their declarations.

The next generation. Now.


His little black book is nearly full now and it is a deeply personal diary, despite the serious business at hand. He dare not lose it.

"I'd say it wouldn't make much sense to anyone anyway, what's written. My handwriting isn't great.

"I just try and take down as much as I can and I find that good, just going back over it, because in games you don't have a minute to think through stuff like you do in training. It has to be instinctive.

"So at the end of the week or during the week if I need to refresh myself on something, I can just go back to the book."

Within its pages are the ongoing chronicle of an astonishing season that has much more road in it. A road Van der Flier would wish were one without end.

"I'm absolutely loving the environment, loving playing and in a way, yeah, you don't want it to end, you just want to keep playing games," he enthuses.

"Obviously you want to be winning those games, it's no fun, never any fun losing really. So you want to be playing as many games and performing as well as you can really.

"It's all really surreal. I haven't really had a chance to sit back and look at it all. I'm just trying to take it all in."

One page at a time.

Irish Independent

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