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Leinster openside Van der Flier in impressive form as Six Nations looms

The 25-year-old is looking likely to be wearing Ireland’s seven shirt on 2 February.

JOSH VAN DER Flier started the 2018 Six Nations in Ireland’s seven shirt and it looks increasingly like the Leinster openside will do the same again this year when Joe Schmidt’s side face England in Dublin on 2 February.

Sean O’Brien has been named in Ireland’s squad for the opening two rounds of the championship, providing another possibility at openside, but has played very little rugby this season due to injury.

Josh van der Flier Van der Flier is in superb form for Leinster. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Jordi Murphy has put himself in a fine position to contest with a strong start to life with Ulster after his move to from Leinster during the summer.

Dan Leavy, meanwhile, was left out of the 38-man squad Schmidt confirmed yesterday, with the Ireland boss indicating that the Leinster man is likely to come into the squad “once he’s fully fit.”

Schmidt also mentioned Ulster’s Sean Reidy – who has been excellent this season, albeit often at blindside – and Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell, superb over the last fortnight, in an IRFU press release but they’re also absent from the squad.

Clearly, some of van der Flier’s competition for Ireland’s seven shirt have been struggling physically in recent times, but there is no doubting the 25-year-old’s form.

It’s worth recalling that he cruelly injured his ACL during Ireland’s unforgettable Six Nations opener against France last year, ending his season, but he has been blissfully fit and healthy during the current campaign.

With nine starts to his name, van der Flier has displayed his outstanding tackling, aggressive carrying, accurate ruck work and some deft touches on the ball too. 

With Leinster facing into another big Heineken Champions Cup clash away to Wasps on Sunday, when they hope to secure a home quarter-final, van der Flier hasn’t been thinking ahead to his prospects with Ireland too much.

“It’s incredibly competitive in Leinster, never mind Ireland, so I’m just focusing on trying to improve,” says van der Flier.

Andrew Porter, Josh van der Flier and Garry Ringrose celebrate after the game Van der Flier is in prime position to start at openside for Ireland against England. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“You always finish a game and think, ‘I could have done this or that better,’ so I’m trying to get in the team this week at Leinster, rather than thinking of the Ireland team.”

Van der Flier is something of a perfectionist, so it’s interesting to hear what he felt he could have done better in a brilliant showing against Toulouse last weekend.

“One thing was a bit of a soft tackle on [Sébastien] Bézy and he offloaded to [Cheslin] Kolbe and then they scored.

“I felt I could have done a bit better there and maybe have had a few more carries. I was happy overall but there’s always things where you think, ‘I could have hit him a bit harder there’ or ‘I could have got a turnover there.’ There’s always those small things.”

Van der Flier did have a clean turnover for Leinster in the first half, while also managing to slow Toulouse possession at the breakdown on other occasions.

It’s an area of the game that every openside works hard on, but van der Flier has been focusing on his decision-making in particular.

“It’s something Stuart [Lancaster] and [Leinster contact skills coach] Hugh Hogan had said to me.

“It’s not about always going in for the turnover, it’s tempting when you’re watching TV and see the likes of [David] Pocock and those kinds of lads getting loads of turnovers in a game.

Josh van der Flier Leinster take on Wasps in Coventry on Sunday. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“It can be tempting to go into loads of rucks but there’s also the importance of being in the defensive line and not leaving the rest of the team short because you’re jumping into breakdowns the whole time.

“It’s something I’d do every week with Hugh Hogan, we’d tip away at a bit of breakdown stuff and try to improve that area of the game.”

Having endured the disappointment of major injury last season, van der Flier is enjoying feeling good physically.

Leinster’s squad depth has been much-discussed this season and van der Flier has seen the benefits from the inside.

“I have no knocks or niggles, nothing sore,” he says. “It’s nice for this time of the season, normally there are a few bumps you’re carrying along. With the amount of players who’ve been fit as well, there’s been a couple of games where I’ve missed out.

“At the time, you’re frustrated and want to be playing those games but you come out fresher having had a weekend off and a chance to train for a full week. I’m feeling really good.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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