There will come a point soon, after the Six Nations is done for another 12 months and Leinster’s elite return to the day job for another battle on two fronts, that the question of hunger will surface.
It always does, regardless of the sport.
The first problem with this is that it assumes all people are the same, which they are obviously not. Some may have had their appetite blunted by the province’s capture of the Heineken Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 titles last year. But others won’t.
Josh van der Flier is solidly in that latter camp.
Hunger? He’s ravenous. Why wouldn’t he be, given his season ended last time around on a February day in Paris when he ruptured a cruciate ligament during Ireland’s dramatic Six Nations win against the hosts in Saint-Denis?
No Grand Slam journey for him. And no more part in Leinster’s all-conquering journey towards that maiden double success. Dig deeper and it’s even worse with the flanker having missed out time and again on the province’s biggest of days.
Leinster have featured in a dozen knockout games since he made his senior debut in the 2014-15 season and Van der Flier has managed an involvement in only three, none of the finals. One start and two runs off the bench. That’s it. Of 960 minutes of knockout rugby, he has played 114.
Fair to say then that the man is eager to change that narrative. “I’m very excited and desperate to be involved in those kinds of days. Watching on and seeing the lads succeeding, it drives you on and makes you want to be out there. Even though you say to yourself that you were involved earlier in the season, you’re not there for those games towards the end of it.”
Dan Leavy was the big winner when Van der Flier went down in the French capital last year, slotting in for club and country and solidifying his place with a series of extraordinary performances that started with that cameo at Stade de France.
Swings and roundabouts and all that.
It was an injury to Leavy, “full body soreness” as Joe Schmidt described it at the time, that allowed Van der Flier to be parachuted into the Ireland side to face New Zealand last November and Leavy is now sidelined again, this time with a calf problem.
He may or may not make it back in time for the trip to Coventry this weekend. As may Sean O’Brien. Nice conundrums for head coach Leo Cullen should both be fit and added to a back row pool also containing Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan.
“Yeah, it is always incredibly competitive. You have Dan and Sean O’Brien and Scott Penny now doing incredible as well so there is an awful lot of competition. You just try to focus on your own game and play as well as you can.
“It makes you more aware that if you’re not playing really well when he is back, possibly this week, then you know you won’t be playing. It makes you just focus a bit more when you have that competition. You can’t be lazy or complacent.”
Not this week.
Leinster head into this last group game top of Pool One having usurped Toulouse at the summit last week and require another win on Sunday to secure that spot and earn a home berth for the quarter-finals.
Wasps have been abject in Europe this term and mediocre in the Premiership where they sit, appropriately, mid-table. But Leinster’s last experience at the Ricoh Arnea provides a ready-made motivation for anyone of a mind to slack off.
The English side crossed for seven tries in a 51-10 romp this very week three years ago but all the momentum that Wasps enjoyed in Europe that year has been frittered away while Leinster, who lost five of their six pool games then, are a side reborn.
“I came on at half-time for Jordi (Murphy) and then it kind of ran away from us so I don’t have too good memories of that game,” said Van der Flier who faced into a manageable 15-10 deficit on taking the field that day.
“It was tough. They were very very good and I remember they scored a lot of very good backs tries. They kind of cut us apart in defence so we are aware of what they can do. That was certainly a game we can learn from.”