Friday 22 February 2019

Van der Flier doing extra graft to become smarter breakdown threat

Josh van der Flier: Enjoying the competition for back-row jerseys. Photo: Sportsfile
Josh van der Flier: Enjoying the competition for back-row jerseys. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

The weekly fight for spots in the starting Leinster back-row is a microcosm of the battle for places in Joe Schmidt's World Cup squad and the return of Seán O'Brien to full training this week has only heightened the competition.

At openside, Josh van der Flier is the man in position for club and country right now and he is likely to get the No 7 jersey for the Six Nations opener against England having starred in the win over New Zealand in November.

Last weekend, he impressed against Toulouse and displayed an increasingly strong poach-game that saw him come up with a big first-half turnover when the game was in the melting pot.

When he broke on to the scene, Van der Flier (right) was renowned for his carrying and tackling but he is developing his breakdown work with help from Leinster's contact coach Hugh Hogan in the knowledge that the more strings he has to his bow the better when it comes to the big selection decisions.

"I was happy enough with that," he said of the penalty against Toulouse.

"Whatever way the lad fell right at my feet, it's one of those when you go in for a poach and the ball just kinda pops up in your hand so I was happy with that one.

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"It's something I try to work on a bit, especially with Hugh Hogan each week. It's something Stuart (Lancaster) has talked to me about, he played No 7 as well.

"Sometimes I'd think I need to be getting loads of turnovers every game, like (David) Pocock or whatever, all the good No 7s would do but he said you have to be smart about it, there's no point...

"If I go in for a ruck to try and get a turnover, then there's one less man in a defensive line, so I could be messing things up for the rest of the team-mates.

"So It's something to be smart about and when there's opportunities there, try and take them, but it's something I can constantly work on."

"We wouldn't do full contact breakdown (at training), it's a bit dangerous in open training to do it too often. A lot of injuries come from breakdown stuff... But, I do a good bit with Hugh after training, with a pad, sometimes in a suit, the padded suits, and I'd get him to hit me with a pad, or get a couple of people in and try do a bit of poaching, you try to replicate it as best you can."

Van der Flier is acutely aware of the pressure for places.

"It is always incredibly competitive," he said.

"You have Dan (Leavy) and Seán O'Brien and Scott Penny now doing incredible as well so there is an awful lot of competition.

"You just try to focus on your own game and play as well as you can.

"It makes you more aware that if you're not playing really well when he is back, possibly this week, then you know you won't be playing. It makes you just focus a bit more when you have that competition.

"You can't be lazy or complacent."

Those are not words you would associate with the 25-year-old.

Irish Independent

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