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Dublin: 12°C Monday 17 May 2021

Van der Flier a bright spark for Ireland but wants to be more than a workhorse

The 23-year-old has been superb off the bench against the All Blacks in recent weeks.

WITH HIS RABID work rate, Josh van der Flier has quickly earned a reputation as a workhorse.

13 carries and a mountain of ruck work off the bench against the All Blacks in Chicago, then 12 carries and five more tackles last weekend in Dublin. The impression is only growing by the weekend.

Josh Van der Flier Van der Flier won his fourth cap last weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

But the 23-year-old isn’t quite content with himself, perhaps underlining why he works so relentlessly hard.

“I take it as a compliment but looking back at the video there were definitely times [last weekend] when I was pretty tired and jogging back fairly slowly so I don’t know if I have quite earned that title,” says van der Flier.

“It’s something to work on, that side of the game. If you can’t be making the big plays, then instead of making 10 tackles you can make 12 or 15 tackles and have more involvement in the game.

The more involvements you have, and the fitter you are, the more impact you are going to have for the team.”

Joe Schmidt would like that statement.

Van der Flier brings the kind of work rate that the Kiwi head coach believes is a basic requirement, but the former Wesley College man is also conscious of developing his skill set to include greater handling ability.

“You want to be that link man between backs and forwards because that’s traditionally what a seven would have been, as well as the breakdown work,” says van der Flier.


There was an ambitious offload attempt against the All Blacks last weekend, as Ireland battered away in the Kiwi 22, still trailing 14-6.

What did Schmidt say about it?

“I mentioned it after the game. He said I did it right, but maybe not the offload. It was a bit of a silly moment.

“I wouldn’t have thrown it if it wasn’t… I saw [Andrew] Trimble in the corner and he would have scored if he had got the ball.

“That’s what was going through my head then, but I was probably too close to the ground when I tried to throw it and it didn’t come off. If it had come off, I’d have been the hero. Try throw it earlier next time or not at all, I suppose.”

The former option would be preferable, certainly, and the hope is that Ireland and Leinster continue to encourage van der Flier to grow as a player. The hope is that he can offer much more than pure work rate and a thunderous carry.

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One area where van der Flier has scope for improvement in is the breakdown. He has the agility and intelligence to get over the tackled player but often finds himself blasted away before getting a good purchase on the ball.

In terms of jackal proponents, there is no one better for van der Flier to learn from than Sean O’Brien, who was the other flanker last weekend when van der Flier replaced the concussed CJ Stander in the 22nd minute.


“I’ve only played with him two or three times, just whatever way it has worked,” says van der Flier. “I have been injured or he has been injured or rested or whatever it is. We just haven’t got to play together much. I love playing with him.

“He is unbelievable at poaching. We got to link up a couple of times. I made one tackle and he got the poach, so it was a bit of fun.”

Van der Flier has played virtually all of his senior rugby at openside, but was called on to cover the blindside when Stander sustained his head injury last weekend.

Though the Leinster man insists that he sees himself as a seven, he made a fine fist of the different role, carrying for 51 metres and making a clean linebreak.

“I slotted in at six for CJ, so there was a bit more moves, more carrying the ball; I just found myself carrying the ball more,” says van der Flier. “It was very different to the last game against New Zealand, I think I carried the ball once in 50 minutes or 60 minutes.

It’s just the way the game [last weekend] was, we had a lot of the ball. All the forwards had a lot of carries, it was just one of those games.”

After two outstanding performances off the bench against the best team in the world, it’s hard to argue against the case for van der Flier getting a start on his fifth Ireland cap against the Wallabies on Saturday.

Josh Van der Flier Van der Flier at Carton House yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

O’Brien’s performance against the Kiwis means he looks certain to retain the seven shirt, so could van der Flier wear six?

“I always see myself as a seven because I’ve always kind of played seven the last few years anyway. I’d be happy wherever I play as long as I get to play. I prefer seven, it’s pretty fun playing six as well. As long as I’m on the pitch, I’m happy.”

In truth, you could put the number one on van der Flier’s back and he would give nothing less than total and relentless effort.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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