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Dublin: 9 °C Friday 26 April, 2019

'What actually changed my mindset was reading a bit of McCaw’s book'

Josh van der Flier is looking to make good decisions on both sides of the breakdown.

JOSH VAN DER Flier isn’t the most voracious reader of sports books.

Sports documentaries are more his thing, basketball being a favourite focus, but he made an exception for the autobiography of the man many view as the greatest openside to have played rugby.

Josh van der Flier Van der Flier is back in Ireland's starting team for tomorrow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Richie McCaw’s book made an impression on him a few years ago and helped to alter his mindset around the breakdown.

“I used to kind of get caught up with turnovers because that was the big thing for me watching McCaw and David Pocock, when you see on the TV however many turnovers they got in the game” says van der Flier, who returns to Ireland’s number seven shirt for tomorrow’s Six Nations clash with France.

“What actually changed my mindset was reading a bit of McCaw’s book and he said he stopped looking at the number of turnovers he got but looked at how effective he was with the number of chances he got. That’s probably more the way I’d look at it.”

Van der Flier isn’t especially renowned as a jackal turnover specialist but he had three over the course of the 2018 November Tests and has made three poaches in Leinster colours this season so far. 

Being selective is key for van der Flier, who invariably racks up big tackle counts – he was Ireland’s top tackler against England with 19 – as he makes good decisions not to chase lost causes at defensive breakdowns.

Van der Flier is also usually near the top of Ireland’s charts for hitting attacking rucks when he starts, his huge work-rate putting him in position to clear defenders away and provide quick ball for Ireland.

The 25-year-old doesn’t go into games with a target quantity of rucks in mind, instead focusing on the quality of his decisions.

Jack Carty and Josh van der Flier celebrate winning Van der Flier with debutant Jack Carty in Italy. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Sometimes I might end up going to too many breakdowns, as in I’m not needed and I’m just parked up doing nothing, and sometimes I was needed in a breakdown and the ball was slowed down because I didn’t get there.

“So I try and read it as I go and make sure I am where I should be and not be wasted.”

The breakdown plays a central role in life under Joe Schmidt with Ireland. 

The head coach is obsessive in his detailed demands on players to ensure lightning quick ball – rucks that last under three seconds – when Ireland are in possession.

“It would be covered in pretty much every meeting, especially team meetings anyway,” says van der Flier of the ruck area.

“It’s one of the main things we focus on because you can have lovely set-plays or little moves on how to break down teams but if the breakdown is slow or it’s poor and you’re losing the ball, it’s all kind of pointless.

“So it’s massive and gets stressed a lot during the week.”

Having been on the Ireland bench for the last two games after Sean O’Brien came in to start at openside post-England, van der Flier is eager to make a statement tomorrow.

Josh van der Flier Van der Flier was on the sidelined for Le Drop. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Wicklow man was in Ireland’s seven shirt the last time they played France, in Paris at the start of their Grand Slam last year.

Van der Flier lasted only 37 minutes, however, suffering the knee injury that would end his season and pave the way for Dan Leavy to step up as Ireland’s openside flanker.

“I didn’t last too long there,” recalls van der Flier with a laugh, before recounting how he watched Johnny Sexton’s last-gasp drop goal.

“I was in the changing room icing after I hurt my knee and then with about 10 minutes to go, one of the physios came down to see how I was and I asked him what the score was and he said there was two or three points in it.

“I was like, ‘Can I go up?’ and he said, ‘Grand,’ so I got a pair of crutches and was on the sideline then. It was good fun to watch.”

Andy Dunne joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey to discuss Joe Schmidt’s undroppables and how France might attack Ireland’s predictability in The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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