Has Josh van der Flier played himself into the Lions conversation?

HE RARELY GRABS the headlines but Josh van der Flier has been an important figure in the Leinster and Ireland set-ups over the past five years, putting in consistently strong performances.

The 27-year-old seems to be taking his game to the next level at the moment, with a hugely impactful performance against Exeter in the Champions Cup last weekend his latest show of quality.

Van der Flier’s display drew praise from Eoin Toolan and Murray Kinsella on today’s edition of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra – an analysis podcast available to members of The42 every Monday – as they reviewed Leinster’s remarkable win.

David Leahy, a member of The42, emailed in to ask if van der Flier is the most improved player in Ireland this season and wondered if the openside has put himself into the Lions conversation.

Eoin: “I believe he has, yeah. We always knew his defensive capabilities and again he was top tackler at the weekend from a Leinster perspective. His numbers were outrageous, he made 22 tackles, forced two turnovers.

“But it’s probably the other side of the ball, his ball-carrying, I just think there’s an added venom and acceleration into contact where he’s now winning those collisions.

“We were talking about the accuracy of Leinster’s launches and one example is how they’ve identified where Joe Simmonds sets up defensively off a short lineout. Robbie Henshaw gives a little flat pass to van der Flier and he gets Simmonds perfectly for really good gainline which facilitates the second phase.

“The second phase is Jack Conan playmaking, he’s got Rory O’Loughlin short and then that lovely triple-stack shape where they play Rónan Kelleher through a gap on a little ‘in’ pass. That was really creative but it all started from a powerful van der Flier carry.

“That side of his game has progressed exceptionally well and he is becoming that all-round number seven. When you think of the guys Leinster are missing, he’s really stood up and is probably one of Leinster’s best players at the moment.”

Murray: “He’s got a really assertive presence about him at the moment and it’s really good to see him continually adding things to his game. The carrying wasn’t a strength really before but the timing of his runs around the corner, that bit of venom…

“As you say, they’re putting him in good positions and probably asking him to put his hand up a little more in that way. It has been brilliant.” 

Today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra also saw Eoin and Murray discussing Ross Byrne’s impact on the game and how Leinster went about overturning the early 14-point deficit at Sandy Park.

There was analysis of Ireland Women’s big Six Nations win over Wales, Ulster’s victory against Northampton in the Challenge Cup, and also an update from Eoin on the Japanese rugby front.