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How 'quite stressed and nervous' advice paid off for van der Flier

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images)

Last Sunday’s announcement of Ireland No7 Josh van der Flier as the 2022 World Rugby player of the year provided his club Leinster with the perfect opportunity to delve into their files and republish an eight-minute video portraying his hopes and aspirations in the sport six years ago.

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At the time, the now 29-year-old van der Flier had graduated from his provincial academy and had just learned 20 minutes before filming that he has just been selected in his first Ireland Six Nations squad.

That was January 2016 and having made his Test debut the following month at Twickenham, van der Flier followed last Saturday’s 45th Ireland cap in the win over Australia by flying to Monaco the next day and beating Johnny Sexton, his club and country teammate, Lukhanyo Am of South Africa and France’s Antoine Dupont to the global player of the year award.

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His success was the prompt for Leinster to dive into their back catalogue and they have since tweeted: “Origins of the 2022 World Rugby player of the year. Six years ago, Leinster Rugby TV featured a young Josh van der Flier who was working his way through the academy. It has been some journey since then!”

It sure has. When quizzed at the time about his Ireland call-up, he nervously said: “I don’t know what to think, it is still very surreal. I only found out 20 minutes ago or so. I’m just really excited. Although I kind of aimed for this to come, I don’t know what to think really.

“It’s very exciting. Being one of the younger lads in the squad I would be hoping to get comfortable with the system and get to know the lads a lot better as well. Hopefully, I can train with a bit of confidence and stuff and see where that takes me.”

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A long way, it has transpired. Also included in the film was an important bit of advice that van der Flier would have given himself three years earlier when he first entered the Leinster academy.

“I remember I got quite stressed and nervous about big training sessions, big games. Probably just enjoy it more and keep learning from the coaches because it has gone pretty well, so I wouldn’t tell him too much.

“I have just loved every minute of it really. It has been unbelievable. From all aspects, I have developed. As a player, I don’t know where to start talking about where I have improved.”

While van der Flier has forged a successful career in the blue of Leinster, there was some controversy starting out that he was wearing a red scrum cap, which was the colour of Munster, his team’s fierce Irish rivals.

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He copped some stick during his breakthrough years but he had a good explanation at the time for his choice of colour – and he still wears red to this day, as was seen in the latest Ireland win last weekend.

“I started wearing one in school. It matched the (Wesley College) jersey and from then on people knew me as ‘the lad with the red scrum cap’, so I just decided never to really change it. I wouldn’t be stuck with it but I would say I’ll probably end up in it for the rest of my career.” It sure now looks that way.

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