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Thursday 17 October 2019

Van der Flier delighted with chance to shine in Japan

Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier
Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier
Hamish Watson

When it comes to World Cup war stories, Ireland's flankers have been dealt some tales of woe lately.

Dan Leavy and Sean O'Brien were both invalided out of the trip to Japan before it even began, victims of plying their trade in the most attritional area of a game now more physical than ever.

The man who will wear the seven jersey first up at the tournament has had his World Cup battle scars too - thankfully for Ireland they were some 20 years ago.

"I don't remember much about the 1999 World Cup but I do remember the final," says Josh van der Flier. "We played a match that day with Wicklow Rugby Club and I lost a tooth. The tooth was coming loose and I'd lost it. I remember watching the final and holding an ice pack to my mouth.

"I don't think the ice pack was doing much, it was probably just to make me feel better, but that's probably my earliest memory, which is strange.

"I probably wasn't that interested in the final. I enjoyed the rugby but I probably wouldn't have known too much about what was going on."

Two decades on and he'll be in the thick of the action, making his tournament bow against Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday.

"I would try to treat it as another game but it's pretty special," he said.

"Obviously when I was younger, I would spend four years waiting for the next World Cup and once it finishes, you can't wait for the next one, just even to watch, never mind to play in. It would be absolutely incredible.

"I'm really enjoying it, it's really different to life at home and everything at home.

"It's incredible to even be here but obviously I'm hoping to play on Sunday and it would be a special day if I could get on the field."

The 26-year-old will be an important cog in an Ireland pack that is presumed to be an area where Joe Schmidt's side will seek to establish their superiority. His opposite number, Hamish Watson, has been his side's best forward of late, while the ruck area is key to giving Scotland the quick ball they crave to set the tempo and minimize the necessity for the bigger collisions.

"The main thing I'd be focused on is getting the basics right," Van der Flier said of the key Pool A clash. "Those big moments, the turnovers and big carries. Those are the things everyone wants to do.

"I'll try to do the basics first and then see where it gets me.

"That'll be my process anyway going into a game, then I'll try to take opportunities when they come.

"It's hard with, especially something like turnovers, sometimes a team goes very, very hard at the ruck in their attack and there's not always opportunities.

"Sometimes there's loads of opportunities and you might get two, be delighted, and there was way more out there.

"So you can only take each game for what it is and stick to the basics.

"Scotland are pretty dangerous with quick ball, pretty similar to the Scottish PRO14 sides, Glasgow and Edinburgh, have been. Their poach breakdown threat is pretty massive. I suppose that's one of the big areas for us as back rows to look at, the likes of Barclay, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie are all threats over the ball and obviously good ball-carriers as well.

"It will be quite a battle."

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