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Friday 20 October 2017

'We do not like Munster': Josh

Van der Flier ready to tackle Stander

Leinster’s Josh van der Flier during training at Leinster Rugby Headquarters this week. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Leinster’s Josh van der Flier during training at Leinster Rugby Headquarters this week. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The legendary lock Brad Thorn has always been lauded for his machine-like dedication to rugby.

It is what kept him in the game for 23 years, moving from Rugby League to Union.

Just last year, he came out of retirement, aged 41, to play for Queensland Country in the Australian National Rugby Championship.

Leinster would have been foolish to look to replace the ultimate professional with a like-minded lock back in 2012.

Instead, flanker Josh van der Flier made his Leinster debut in October 2014 as a classic example of how hard work really does work.

Finest

Similar to Fergus McFadden, Van der Flier is a full-time, focussed professional, who has been programmed to carry out game instructions to the finest detail.

Like Thorn, there is nothing flashy about what they do. There are no magic moments, no silky skills, no golden give-and-takes.

They simply apply themselves every day during the week, commit to the game-plan and give it everything on the weekend.

You might call then unsung heroes.

When Leinster's Joe Schmidt wanted a man to lock down Clermont-Auvergne's giant wing Napolioni Nalaga in the European Cup, he turned to McFadden in the winter of 2012. In other words, if you need a man to do a specific job, McFadden's your man out the back.

In the same way, Van der Flier has a machine-like mind for carrying out instructions to a tee whether that centres around ball-focus or man-focus.

This is why the 24 year-old is the perfect player to take down Munster's CJ Stander in the inter-provincial derby on Saturday.

The dogs in the street know if you can stop Stander, you go a long way towards stopping Munster.

"I think it's the same as any good player, you have to get at them early and don't give them time to get into the game," said Van der Flier.

"I suppose, for him, there's no point in tackling him high. He bounces people off.

"For me, anyway, I'll just try to tackle him low and try to get into him early and that's all you can do.

"He's a very good player and you try not to give him space. That's as good as you can do really."

For Van der Flier, this will mark just his third contribution to the legacy of the Leinster-Munster derby.

There were the closing ten minutes in place of Seán O'Brien for the 24-7 win in Thomond Park over the Christmas period in 2015.

Four months later, he was thrown in for 30 minutes for Jordi Murphy in a 16-13 edge at the Aviva Stadium.

"It's the game everyone wants to play in," he said. "There are obviously semi-finals and finals and stuff but other than those this is probably the biggest game of the year.

"We don't like them very much and they don't really like us. It makes for a good game. It'll be very physical."

There is the rivalry between the two provinces and the personal memories individuals take into it.

Above and beyond all that, Van der Flier is one of the few chosen to add another chapter to the story.

"It's such a massive deal for me and, from watching the games when I was younger, I would say that we still don't like them as much as back then," he said.

"It is going to be a big game and the fact that there are over 40,000 tickets sold already shows that people are still keen to watch the two teams go at it."

All the Irish flanker has to do now is make the team to face Munster this Saturday in the Aviva (2.0) or, failing that, the bench for a third time.

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