glutton for punishment

Van der Flier happy to mix it in open Leinster style, but loves the grind of hard-fought Tests

Maybe he likes the misery.

THOUGH THE OVERRIDING emotion venting out of Leinster in their Heineken Champions Cup opener against Benetton on Saturday was anger, there were moments that stood out as joys.

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Josh van der Flier  might just have backed his own leg drive and reach to finish off the bonus point-sealing try, that is if it had not been Jonathan Sexton haring up behind him calling for the return pass.

Two Ireland internationals cutting loose and running free. If it looked like they were enjoying themselves more than they were at the World Cup, it’s because they were. 

The stakes in Japan were quite some distance higher than they are at this stage of the club season. Opposition quality registers higher for the most part too and so the intensity levels just are not comparable for a Leinster side who are a cut above the majority of other sides in Europe.  

Van der Flier was put on the spot this week about which he enjoyed more.

“It’s hard to say, really,” began the flanker with slow deliberation, cognisant of the Isa Nacewa-fuelled comparison between Leinster’s gameplan and Ireland’s. But he finds the going easier on club duty.

“It’s definitely a greater honour to play for your country. Any time you’re wearing a green jersey is really, really special.

“I suppose there’s less of those grind-out, really tight games with club rugby. Especially with the World Cup where everyone is playing the biggest game of their life every game which is what it seemed like with every team we were playing against.

Whereas, I suppose it’s a bit less ground-out if that makes sense, a bit more open.”

But where would we be without the grind?

Maybe, to quote the nation’s favourite housekeeper, he likes the misery? Every self-respecting forward does.

“I really enjoy the games which are a bit more open and you get a bit more ball in hand. But, then, I do love the physical side of it, the real tight games, when there’s a lot of tackling and scrappy ball to deal with.

“I kind of enjoy that, I don’t want it to be too much of a backs’ game.”

josh-van-der-flier-celebrates-after-the-game Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Van der Flier will be more than happy with another grind of a game when Leinster take on Top14 leaders Lyon this Saturday.  Four years ago, he was among the crop of Leinster talent who forced their way to prominence thanks to an extended run while most eyes were on the World Cup.

This year, he returned to UCD to find Caelan Doris, Will Connors and Scott Penny in prime position to continue in leading roles for Leo Cullen’s side.

“Coming back from the World Cup, I was thinking over the last couple of weeks that if I don’t train at my best or put in a really good performance when I can then I won’t be playing.

“Because the other lads would deserve it because they’ve been playing so well. Obviously they’ve got the club to the position we’re in in the Pro14, so they’ve been incredible and it really pushes us on.

“It was one thing that Stuart and Leo said to me when I came back, that basically it’s expected that I’d have to perform because all the back row are all playing well.

“Yeah, there’s a lot more pressure on the position… but I suppose there always is.”

Pressure, of course, is not always a bad thing. It’s how it’s dealt with.

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