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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 15 February, 2019
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Relentless JVDF celebrates 'incredible' night 9 months on from knee nightmare

The Leinster openside and Jordi Murphy were on duty in Chicago and key again in a second win over New Zealand.

Sean Farrell reports from the Aviva Stadium

GIVEN THE WEALTH of number 7 resources Ireland have been able to boast in recent years, it’s a little strange that both wins over New Zealand featured the same two opensides.

A quirk of availability brought Josh van der Flier into the starting line-up for Saturday and Jordi Murphy onto the bench, reversing their roles in Chicago.

Samuel Whitelock steals a line out ahead of Jordi Murphy Murphy replaced the injured Peter O'Mahony on Saturday. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

It was fitting that they were both on the field on Saturday night to celebrate Ireland’s second win over the All Blacks in 113 years. The camaraderie and shared experience of Van der Flier and Murphy has been a feature throughout this year.

The Wicklow man’s big chance on Soldier Field came after the now Ulster back row suffered a nightmare knee injury during the first half of the historic win over New Zealand.

Van der Flier’s ACL suffered the same fate during Ireland’s dramatic win over France in Paris in February. It was his turn to hobble around on crutches while celebrations flowed around him, but Murphy was among the first men to make contact and offer support, while his form during Leinster’s double campaign was a consistent source of optimism for Van der Flier while he remained on the road to recovery. A road that can take nine months, but Van der Flier ate up the ground in seven en route to Saturday’s sensational performance.

“When I first got injured, the 20th of November would have been a realistic standard return for the injury,” Van der Flier said in the depths of the Aviva Stadium after paying tribute to the work of Leinster’s rehab physio Fearghal Kerin

Josh van der Flier with Beauden Barrett Van der Flier powers through Jack Goodhue. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Obviously, I don’t think it’s the 20th yet,” he adds with a laugh, two months on from his try-scoring comeback against the Dragons, “to be ahead of schedule is testament to the work they put in that I managed to get back for this, a very special day.”

Van der Flier’s performance was a bit special too. 16 of those rock solid tackles and a wealth of work around the breakdown, including a big assisting role on a massively important turnover credited to CJ Stander – the other common back row between this week and Chicago 2016.

As the All Blacks tried to impose some early ‘suffocation by possession’ promised midweek by Steve Hansen, Stander went on the poach after seven phases of heavy forward carries from black jerseys. The pressure continued until Stander and Van der Flier saw the next opportunity on phase 12 and the penalty earned caused a roar that set a high mark the decibel meter (which would be tested a few more times before the night was out).

CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier tackle Richie Mo'unga Stander and Van der Flier worked brilliantly in tandem. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We were we under a huge amount of pressure at the time. When you get those moments, when you’re under a lot of pressure, to relieve that is massive for everyone.

“Then the crowd were incredible from the start as well. It was some buzz.”

Bundee Aki and Josh van der Flier celebrate after the game Magnificent 7. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

A better feeling than Chicago, because this was on home turf and Van der Flier had the number 7 on his back.

“It is incredible. It was a special moment, I don’t know if it has sunk in yet, once you’re out there it feels like you’re just doing your job, doing what you do every week – except, obviously, tougher opposition than any other week.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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