Josh van der Flier admits he was a bundle of nerves ahead of Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 semi-final win over Munster.
The Leinster flanker was making his first appearance since tearing his groin in the Six Nations win over France in March.
He hid any nerves well, though, playing 77 minutes and picking up the sponsor’s man of the match award for his all-round display.
The performance will have been a huge boost for Ireland boss Joe Schmidt as well, with the back row forward showing no rustiness after his return from surgery.
“I was pretty nervous, to be honest. I was more nervous than I would normally be – that’s having not played in a few weeks,” van der Flier said.
“I was worried would I have the fitness to get through. You are always thinking those things.
“I managed to do everything I could. I was working with Hugh Hogan 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.”
Van der Flier made 25 tackles and brought a ferocious intensity to Leinster’s defence.
His display made the home fans forget about the absent Seán O’Brien – good news ahead of the Carlow man’s departure to London Irish next season.
Leo Cullen praised the 26 year-old’s “diligence” in returning to fitness ahead of time, calling him a role model for the rest of the team.
“He was incredible, wasn’t he?” said Cullen. “Considering he got injured two years in a row against France, one he does his ACL and then the other one he does his groin.
“I thought he was going to be gone for the rest of the season so to get himself back and in such good shape, it’s a credit to him.”
Van der Flier insisted he’s not driven by a fear of failure, but admitted that he had to work extra hard to shake off any doubts ahead of the visit of Munster.
"Our medical team have to be the best in the world - they're absolutely brilliant."— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) May 18, 2019
Guinness Man of the Match @joshvdf speaks about his return from injury, some wise words from Isa Nacewa, and today's win over Munster. ⬇️#LEIvMUN #JoinTheRoar pic.twitter.com/3nzDAFaLdT
“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,” he said.
“So, 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 think ‘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.
Van der Flier will be in the mix for next week’s final showdown in Celtic Park, a possible first final for the player who missed last season’s finals through injury as well as the Champions Cup clash in Newcastle.
“I missed these knockout games last season, and it was looking more than likely I would miss these knockout games,” he said.
“I felt very grateful to be in bonus territory, I suppose, that’s probably what I am thinking.
“If it wasn’t for the work of the medical team, I shouldn’t be here on the pitch really.
“Bonus territory, I guess, is how I feel about it.”