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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

Van der Flier has bit between his teeth in battle for 'disputed' 7 shirt

Competing for a starting slot is different at 27 than it was at 23 for Josh van der Flier.

Image: Dave Winter/INPHO

JOSH VAN DER Flier’s off-field demeanour is beginning to closer resemble the steel he has always brought on the field.

There was a time when the tireless openside would appear to placidly accept his role when he was bumped out of a starting line-up. Part of that may be down to the meteoric rise he enjoyed in professional rugby.

16 months after his first outing for Leinster, he earned his first international cap. That was early in 2016, and by year’s end he had played a hard-hitting role in Ireland’s first-ever win over New Zealand.

Now he’s 27, Van der Flier is no longer the young prospect breaking through. In fact, he is being forced to look over his shoulder at younger 7s coming through to force their way in ahead of him at both Leinster and Ireland – where Peter O’Mahony is also back on the prowl for an openside role.

“I played 70 minutes against Wales, 20-odd against Scotland, and that was all the game time I had for nine weeks or so,” says an admittedly frustrated Van der Flier.

He took some of that frustration out on Montpellier on Saturday, his dynamic carrying a feature in a brilliant back row display as Leinster took apart the Top14 side.

He knows he must sustain that form to hold onto his position with Will Connors, Dan Leavy and Scott Penny all on the block. Although competition for places is not new in Leinster, Van der Flier admits it is different now he is ‘disputing’ the shirt with younger men rather than have one particular iconic figure dominating the conversation.

“When Seán O’Brien was there when I was first coming in, he was someone you are competing with and has gone on a couple of Lions tours, so you could maybe understand not playing.

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“But it is frustrating any time you are not playing, It has been especially frustrating the last few weeks, but that’s the way it goes. I’ll do everything to not be in that position when the next group of games come around.

liam-williams-and-josh-van-der-flier Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Getting a starting place in Leinster is probably the only thing to focus on at the moment, it’s hard enough as it is.”

The demands on provincial personnel in the weeks ahead, continuing with this Saturday’s visit of Northampton to the RDS, means rotation will be necessary from Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster, so different combinations of back rows will get a chance to shine. To put himself back in the front line with Ireland, Van der Flier knows that is where he must deliver.

“I suppose you can look at it in two ways; one is that you try and improve your game, you try to get to a place where you can’t not be played, where you’re undisputed. That’s the best place to be in.

“On the other side of it then, every time you train and play, you’re trying to prove the coaches wrong and prove why you should be in that position.”

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Sean Farrell

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