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Monday 25 June 2018

Van der Flier now '34' not out

Leinster tackle machine could be Irish answer to legend Thierry Dusautoir

Josh van der Flier at Leinster squad training in UCD
Josh van der Flier at Leinster squad training in UCD
Connacht’s Tom Farrell is tackled by Leinster’s Josh van der Flier during their recent PRO14 match at the RDS

There is no harder worker in Leinster than Josh van der Flier. Fact.

There is a machine-like efficiency to his game, to the 34 tackles crunched out against Connacht for a PRO14 League record.

It is not as much about the number of tackles as the number of times he got off the floor or out of a ruck to be in position to put his body on the line.

This is simply the hallmark of his growing game.

"I remember thinking during the game, 'I'm making a lot of tackles here,'" he said.

"After the game, I was thinking it was probably my most ever.

"But, I thought it was around the 25 mark. I knew it was more than I had made before.

"I was pretty surprised afterwards to hear how many it was."

It was not just the outrageous tackle count that took the eye, but the fact that it was accompanied by no misses.

Brilliant

"When I first came into Leinster and Ireland under-20s, it was 'no missed tackles, that's brilliant.'"

This does not qualify as the perfect game in defence as there are varying degrees of effectiveness that accompany each make.

"Now, it's kind of 'oh well you soaked a few tackles, you had a few tackles where you made them and they ended up a few yards past you before you managed to get them down.'

"You can have no missed tackles, but a few (targets) that get behind you.

"I had a few tackles that I soaked a lot and gave them a good bit of yards or they got an offload away, those kinds of things."

The flanker could well be Ireland's answer to Thierry Dusautoir, the thumping tackle king, who dominated the All Blacks for 38 clean hits in a legendary performance in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final.

They have more than that in common as Van der Flier has been accused of being somewhat one-dimensional in his game.

They share a reputation for being more a destructive than creative force.

"Sometimes I get in the bad habit of just catching the ball and head down and carry," admitted Van der Flier.

"Whereas, sometimes, it's a lot more effective to just give a little tip-on pass or send a wider pass.

"It's something everyone is just constantly trying to work on."

The responsibilities of the openside are many and varied on both sides of the ball.

The Leinster Way involves all men handling the egg comfortably to add to the options available on and away from the ball.

"It's something Stuart (Lancaster) said to me," he acknowledged. I could work on being more of a link between backs and forwards, because that's traditionally what a seven was."

Leinster's senior coach was also a flanker for English clubs Wakefield, Headingley and Leeds.

Fluidity

"He said that when he was playing, he'd always try and concentrate on picking a pass when he got to a ruck and the nine's not there, to keep the play moving and try and have that fluidity between backs and forwards."

Nonetheless, what Van der Flier did against Connacht requires physical and mental focus on what is coming your way. This is where all the long hours away from the public eye come into play.

"I've always worked hard on my fitness," he stated.

"It has been something I kind of have to focus on, because of the role of a seven."

The all-inclusive role has been defined by one man in particular.

"I suppose Richie McCaw made it that way in that you always have to do as much work as possible.

"He kind of set the standard there.

"Everyone is trying to be as good as he was."

The soft-spoken 24-year-old, out of Wesley College, has had to overcome many disadvantages to get to where he is right now.

"I wouldn't be the biggest lad, compare me to Rhys Ruddock, Jack Conan, any of those lads.

"They'd be a lot bigger than me, Seán O'Brien too. So I'm not going to run over the top of people the way they would.

"I have to bring it in other areas. Work-rate is something I can try to bring in."

The likely loss of O'Brien to a hip injury leaves room for Leinster to include both Dan Leavy and Van der Flier either side of Conan against Glasgow on Sunday.

He will tackle the issue of selection when it comes his way.

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