Dan Sheridan/INPHO Josh van der Flier is World Rugby POTY.

'Two years ago, I wasn't getting picked for some Irish games' - World POTY van der Flier

Josh van der Flier is now the World Rugby men’s player of the year.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 21st 2022, 8:20 AM

BACK WHEN HE was in school, Josh van der Flier knew the full list of World Rugby players of the year off by heart.

Now he’s on the list himself, just the third Irishman to achieve this huge honour after Keith Wood and Johnny Sexton.

Tonight, he sat at a table with a couple of people whose names he used to recite – Dan Carter and Bryan Habana – at the glamorous awards ceremony in Monaco. They’re now his fellow winners.

“It sounds pretty crazy when you say it,” said van der Flier on a call from Monaco.

“If you asked me today, I would probably still have been able to rattle it off, so it’s crazy to be up there with them.”

Van der Flier was consistently brilliant for Ireland throughout a very successful year, while shining for Leinster too. 2022 was the year in which the openside flanker showed the rugby world that he has become one of the very best.

He’s going to need a trophy room in his house pretty soon. His World Rugby men’s player of the year award follows van der Flier winning the European player of the year, Rugby Players Ireland player of the year, Leinster players player of the year, and Rugby Writers of Ireland player of the year. In truth, he’s been the clear winner in all of them. Not bad for a fella who’s not on a central IRFU contract.

Whatever about his boyhood dreams of some day joining the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Richie McCaw, and Carter on the World Rugby list of winners, none of this was looking at all possible even just two years ago, as van der Flier recalled tonight.

josh-van-der-flier-and-ruahei-demant World Rugby / INPHO Van der Flier and women's POTY Ruahei Demant. World Rugby / INPHO / INPHO

Typically, he immediately credited others for his award and pointed out that Ireland’s success made it easier for him, but asked to reflect on when and how he launched himself toward his current level, van der Flier went back to 2020.

“A period that definitely kicked me on was maybe two years ago around now when I wasn’t getting picked for some games with Leinster,” he said.

“Will Connors was starting and playing brilliantly. I wasn’t getting picked for some of the Irish games as well, I was sort of in and out of the team. I kind of realised… I had obviously always tried to improve but I was like, ‘I need to really up my game or I won’t be playing for Leinster or Ireland.’ That was definitely a thing that drove me on.

“It all falls into place that I’ve managed to stay fit, got a few bounces of the ball, and was in a great Leinster team and a really, really good Ireland team.”

One key for van der Flier has been bringing more balance to his game, rounding out his skill set, and offering more than just one main strength at a time.

World players of the year tend to be complete players and van der Flier has pushed himself in that regard. 

“Tackling would have been good at one stage of my career or better at certain times, or ball-carrying was good for a couple of games,” said van der Flier.

“I feel like I’ve now probably managed to blend them better than I have done in the past, getting more all-round performances rather than it just being one thing then the other.”

It says all you need to know about van der Flier that he’s already thinking about repeating and improving on his sensational form this year.

josh-van-der-flier-and-his-wife-sophie-de-patoul Dan Sheridan / INPHO Van der Flier with his wife, Sophie. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Speaking to the likes of Carter and Habana and former All Black Conrad Smith tonight, he was struck by a desire to make sure this is the level he stays at.

“I was chatting to them and it definitely drives you on to not make it a once-off season that goes really well, but you look at the legends of the game who have played to that top level for 15 years, some of them. That’s certainly going to drive me on.”

He believes that Leinster and Ireland are the ideal places for him to keep performing at his peak, with exciting challenges around the corner for both. Van der Flier will be key as Leinster look to return to trophy-winning ways in the URC and Champions Cup next year, while Ireland are targeting Six Nations and World Cup success.

He was delighted for Ireland team-mates Sexton, Tadhg Furlong, and Tadhg Beirne to be named in the World Rugby men’s 15s dream team with him last night.

“The way we’ve been pushed by the coaches in Ireland to perform and improve, you’ve seen that in the individual performances as well as the team performance,” said van der Flier. “Hopefully, we have a few more people on the dream team next year.”

A night out in Monaco awaited, with van der Flier having been joined by his wife Sophie, several of his Ireland team-mates, and Ireland boss Andy Farrell at the ceremony.

He will be back to business soon after briefly pausing to let it all sink in.

“I’m off the next couple of days which is nice,” said van der Flier. “I’m back to Ireland tomorrow and might play a round of golf or two. I haven’t played at all for a couple of months so that’s a nice way of celebrating.”

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