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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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'I played 9 for a bit': JVDF studying to fill any gap for Leinster

The ever-ready openside is willing to slot in anywhere in Leo Cullen’s side… anywhere!

Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THE LEINSTER DEPTH chart has been pored over from all angles this week in the hope that a secret out-half is lurking somewhere to act as understudy for the man who began the season as fourth-choice, Ross Byrne.

Playmaking centre Noel Reid has still to fully recover from a foot injury, so he’s alongside Johnny Sexton (hamstrings), Cathal Marsh (hand) and Joey Carbery (ankle) on the absentee list.

That leaves the evergreen utility man Isa Nacewa (who has played the role for the province in the past) and… well, we’re not sure who comes after that. Tom Daly is another goal-kicking back who has filled the role, but only in club rugby.

Thankfully, a man who proved himself ever-ready for Ireland in November has another solution to bolster the half-back options.

“I played 9 for a bit,” says Josh van der Flier with a wide grin.

“That would be the dream to be throwing on the 10 jersey! I always dreamed of playing 10… I’d be ready if I’m called.”

“I’d back myself (to kick). The coaches don’t seem to think so, but I’d back myself.”

It’s a welcome jovial moment from the Wicklow man who forever seems to have a laser focus on improving every detail of his game. He is speaking just a few minutes after an analysis session for the back row unit with senior coach Stuart Lancaster, but he made sure to examine the game in his own time too before heading into the office on Monday morning.

Work-ons? Always, but plenty to be enthusiastic and hopeful about too.

“There’s a good bit personally to work on and, as a team, there were chances we left out there and things we could definitely do a lot better.

“And, more importantly, things Northampton will be licking their lips looking at.”

Josh Van Der Flier Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Dangerous Dylan Hartley will learn his fate today as a disciplinary panel review his red card for the forearm (or “significant mechanism” as Leinster’s medical team have called it) to the back of Sean O’Brien’s head. There’s no escaping that the punishment paved the way for Leinster to take a bonus point victory, but they were already 10 – 20 to the good so Van der Flier didn’t see it as a point to cut his analysis homework short.

“There’s always things you can work on, even when they’re a man down – broadly look at our attack more than anything. ‘How can we execute better when they’re a man down?’

“The first 60 minutes or so are the biggest thing to work on because that’s when the game was really tight, and after that it opened up a bit.”

Northampton, the assumption goes, will bite back in a big way and attempt to play Grinch at a festive Aviva Stadium. Much like they did when Van Der Flier walked down Lansdowne Road as a fan to the same fixture in 2013. All the homework and focus from him and his pack will be on making sure the set-piece functions smoothly again, the breakdown effort is clinical and energetic. Doing all that will make life easy for Ross on his first start in Europe and make use of the ‘hard track’ in the Aviva.

“It’s small margins in these games. We were good in our set-piece and if we didn’t have that it would be a very different game.

“It could be just a small tweak, then they’ll be a handful – which they were on Saturday – it’s hard to know what they’ll do, but they’ll be tough to play.”

The half-back-turned openside adds: “they’ll be pretty fired up coming into the Aviva this week. We’ve got to build on our performance this week.”

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Sean Farrell

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