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How Josh van der Flier became a more explosive ball-carrier

The Leinster flanker has worked hard on improving his carrying game.

Leinster and Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier.
Leinster and Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

AT TIMES, IT feels like Josh van der Flier doesn’t always get the credit he perhaps deserves.

It comes with the territory as a backrow player with Leinster and Ireland. There’s always someone new bursting through to steal the headlines, making a beeline for the international team. 

Twenty-three year-old Caelan Doris  was the star man in November, Will Connors was lighting it up this time last year and Max Deegan had looked primed to scale those heights before suffering a long term injury.

All the while, Van der Flier has just been getting on with it, quietly becoming one of Leinster and Ireland’s most consistent players, and a key part of Andy Farrell’s backrow.

The Ireland head coach has been quick to praise the flanker, who at 28 now represents a senior member of his squad, noting last month how he felt “something clicked with Josh when Will Connors was coming onto the scene.”

“Josh has stood up to the competition and he’s been exceptional this month,” Farrell said. “In fact, he’s got us out of a lot of trouble a lot of times in three games (in November) just by his sheer want to not get stopped in his carry.”

josh-van-der-flier-is-tackled-by-yu-tamura-and-ben-gunter Van der Flier had a superb November with Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

That has been the most noticeable aspect of Van der Flier’s impressive form over the last year. Always known as a ferocious tackler with an exceptional workrate, the flanker has improved his all-round game by becoming a better ball-carrier by working on his technique and power, ensuring he now ticks even more boxes for his coaches. 

“What I’m trying to do now is, I used to think so much during games – I still think during games obviously – but I try to practice it in training or visualize carrying,” Van der Flier explains.

If someone shoots from there maybe I step inside or I go straight into them or I go for the gap, that kind of thing. Then during a game I just try and relax, and carry, and react to whatever I see in front of me, try not to think about it too much because sometimes I was guilty of over-thinking I guess, and then your decision isn’t quick. That’s the way I’ve kind of been approaching it.”

To improve his own carrying game, Van der Flier has studied masters of the craft.

“There’s different players I take different things from,” he continues.

“I remember when I was younger I used to always watch Conrad Smith because he wasn’t the biggest lad but the way he ran he was quite elusive.

“Sometimes you look at players like Bundee Aki, for example. I’ll never be that shape. He’s so chunky and strong. So then I try and look at people who are similar to me.

“Ardie Savea is someone who is brilliant at it. I think a lot of the New Zealand players are always very good (in terms of) yards after contact; Sam Simmonds as well. There’s a lot of players who do it well and then I suppose I try and visualize as well. I think James Ryan has been very good and Caelan Doris has been very, very good at that.

josh-van-der-flier-with-conor-oliver Van der Flier had another strong display against Connacht last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I take different things from different people and then I try and visualize doing that myself and then hopefully it translates into training and games.”


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He’s also been proactive in seeking advice, his dedication producing quick results. Last season Van der Flier spoke about how he was targeting his power in contact as an area for improvement. In the opening game of this campaign, he bounced Bulls lock Ruan Nortje on his way to scoring Leinster’s first try of the 2021/22 URC season.

“There’s so many different people you take different things from. Leams (Denis Leamy), Hugh (Hogan), I’ve had extensive chats with both of them around different ways of carrying and I’ve tried to vary it up a bit as well.

I think that’s one thing that’s really helped me on a practical level. I remember speaking to Hugh about it, and Leams as well, and I was chatting Fogs along similar lines – like sometimes running at gaps, sometimes running at the person, sometimes carrying low and having a bit of variety and then it becomes harder to defend.

“That’s something I’ve tried to do because I think if you do the same thing the whole time teams just watch it and they know exactly what you’re going to do, so just trying to change it up is another challenge as well that I try and add in.

“It’s something that I feel has been going well. I think when things are going well you look for them more and try and have them as part of your game because they’re going well.

“There’s a couple of things carry-wise I’ve been working on and then when you’re having more carries you see them more. But yeah, it’s something I’ve been working on and I’m pleased how it’s going.” 



About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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