'Josh has been unbelievably physical. He will fit in seamlessly'

Dan Leavy’s injury means his Leinster team-mate comes into the team at openside.

DAN LEAVY HAD a fitness this morning but failed it, meaning Josh van der Flier starts at openside for Ireland against the All Blacks tomorrow.

Leavy wasn’t present at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon as Ireland went through their captain’s run and his absence meant the IRFU were unable to explain his injury beyond indicating that he was ruled out with “general tightness.”

Pressed for further clarity, Ireland’s media officer mentioned “a general movement amongst the players controlling their own information.”

Dan Leavy makes an offload James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Essentially, Ireland’s media officer had not had the opportunity to speak directly to Leavy about his injury and, therefore, said he was not in a position to go into further depth – the player himself having the right to decide whether his medical information is made public.

Leavy may be willing for the nature of his injury to be revealed in due course but for now, all we know for certain is that the openside will not be playing for Ireland tomorrow.

Instead, van der Flier is promoted to the starting team after being named on the bench yesterday, with Jordi Murphy taking his replacement spot.

With Sean O’Brien also having been ruled out of this game, Ireland are essentially down to their third-choice openside but van der Flier certainly doesn’t leave Joe Schmidt’s team weak in the seven shirt. Indeed, his quality underlines Ireland’s depth.

The 25-year-old has played against the All Blacks twice before, coming off the bench in both games against the Kiwis in 2016 and playing three-quarters of each fixture, replacing Jordi Murphy in the first and CJ Stander in the second.

Now, van der Flier gets his starting shot against the best team in the world.

Losing Leavy at this stage is obviously disruptive for Ireland, although Leavy didn’t train with the team yesterday so van der Flier is well-positioned to slot in comfortably.

Josh van der Flier with Bundee Aki and Andrew Porter Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland lost Robbie Henshaw to a hamstring injury just before kick-off against Argentina last week, with Will Addison starting in his place, so they feel they can adapt too.

“It’s something we’ve had to deal with last week, we also dealt with it a couple of years ago with Jamie Heaslip [in the 2017 Six Nations],” said Ireland captain Rory Best.

“Dan came onto the bench that day and came into the game quite early.

“It’s something that Josh trained in quite a bit of yesterday, they all slot in the back rows.
And especially someone like Josh, you know he’s going to have been diligent regardless of where he’s been sat in the squad.

“He will know his drills inside and out, so from our point of view it doesn’t change things massively because you’re replacing a quality player with two more quality players, one to start and one to come onto the bench.”

Van der Flier started for Ireland in their win over Italy in Chicago two weekends ago before missing out on involvement against the Pumas.

His form for Leinster this season has been superb and captain Best is confident that van der Flier will make an impact against the Kiwis.

“Josh, since he’s come back from his injury this season, has been unbelievably physical,” said Best. “Some of the tackles he’s been making around the fringes for Leinster have been staggering.

Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Jacob Stockdale, Josh van der Flier, Jordi Murphy, CJ Stander, Iain Henderson, Devin Toner and Cian Healy with Ian McIlrath before the team photo Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“He’s got an unbelievable engine, and I think him and Dan are quite similar in many ways in terms of how good they are over the ball and how physical they are.

“Two years ago, Josh came on quite early here as well and had a great game and made a couple of good line breaks. Josh will bring his game, and he will fit in seamlessly and accordingly.”

Van der Flier’s physical edge may be important as Best warned of the All Blacks’ strength in contact.

“New Zealand are renowned for the style of rugby they play; one to 15 they can all play and put people into space and through holes,” said Best.

“But probably the area of their game that doesn’t get as much credit is their physicality, they are incredibly physical in the tackle area and the carry and at the breakdown.

“So you know that if you don’t match that, with the talent they’ve got across the pitch that it’s going to be tough. So you’ve got to gear yourself up for that.

“Against New Zealand, you’ve got to gear yourself up for a physical battle because it’s what they bring.”

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