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Thursday 21 November 2019

Van der Flier states case for Leinster and Ireland

Josh van der Flier
Josh van der Flier

There is a machine-like quality to the performances Josh van der Flier churns out.

The thumping tackles, speed off the floor, rush up into the face of a first receiver, leg-drive through contact, an engine that is always on, these are the trademark traits of this ultimate professional.

When van der Flier came out of Wesley College, there was no one outside the Leinster organisation pushing his talent.

He slipped under the radar and straight into the Leinster Sub-Academy with all the fanfare of a Sunday morning siesta.

The no-promises grind of the apprentice can get in on those unable to combine college and the life of a professional athlete.

It is truly a matter of the strongest surviving.

It had the opposite effect on van der Flier, the flanker thriving in the limbo-life in between making it and being broken by it.

The Leinster openside is one of those gentlemen of the game.

The smile and kind nature hide a ferocious competitive spirit underpinned by complete dedication to his chosen path.

It is what makes his remarkable Man of the Match return from groin surgery against Munster just about believable.

The man given a 12-week sentence of recovery was back in just eight to drive Leinster past their rivals at the RDS in a hard-hitting semi-final.

"I was more nervous than I would normally be," he said.

"I was worried would I have the fitness to get through. You are always thinking those things."

It was all in the preparation, the tedious hours of rehabilitation, the welcome arm-wrap of contact and nod from his coach that the time was right for his return.

"I managed to do everything I could. I was working with Hugh Hogan (contact coach) doing some skills, full-on tackles, poaches.

"We basically did every scenario you can come across in a game really and it all went really well.

"Then, coming into this, I was nervous. You never know how it's going to go.

"But I had done everything in the week leading up to it, so I didn't really have any reason to be nervous, even though you are in the first game back, just to see how you get on."

The fear of failure is what drives many of the driven.

"I remember doing an interview with Andrew Trimble and he was talking about how when he prepared for games, he would get real nervous, thinking 'this is the game where everyone is going to find out I'm no good'.

"Yeah, there definitely is a bit of that. You have those moments.

"I try and block it out anyway. I'm sure it's there in the background. You are thinking, 'what if I have a terrible game here?'

"I'm not sure if it is the same for everyone.

"What I try to do is to have everything done during the week.

"It is so I can be, 'I've done my passing, there's no reason I should throw a bad one'.

"Obviously, it does happen. You do throw bad passes or you do miss a tackle.

"But I come into a game, saying I've done everything well in the week and I have no reason to be nervous.

"That's what I try to do. Still, there are those moments where you are nervous."

If the choice of CJ Stander at openside for Munster grabbed the headlines, the performance of van der Flier in the same seven shirt won't have escaped Joe Schmidt's eyeline.

The unlucky Dan Leavy has already been removed from the Ireland roster for the foreseeable future.

Sean O'Brien is far from guaranteed his place on the plane to Japan.

However, a genuine openside van der Flier is back fit and firing.

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