Josh van der Flier says that Joe Schmidt always reminded his Ireland players that they were in the presence of greatness.
But the painfully modest coach was talking about his successor Andy Farrell, not himself, when he offered up such fulsome praise.
Now Farrell is set to take charge for the first time at this level, and van der Flier is excited to see what the Englishman does with his opportunity.
Already, he’s made an impression — dropping Rob Kearney, Jordi Murphy and Seán Cronin from a 45-man “squad” ahead of next week’s first get together, while bringing in eight uncapped players.
But it’s what he does when the Six Nations comes around, and the real business gets underway, that matters, and while his appointment does not represent a new voice or a clean break with the coaching team that flopped in Japan, it’s one that has plenty of confidence from within.
“I thought Andy did a brilliant job as defence coach,” said van der Flier, as he helped launch the Student Enterprise Programme at Portmarnock Community College.
I remember Joe used to say after Andy had run a meeting that we were very lucky to have someone like him — a world-class coach. I mean he is incredible, the style of defending, the way he coaches. It is very exciting.
“I don’t know how much different being a head coach will be for him, but I am sure he will be good.”
A new face is always welcome when a new coaching team is being built, butvan der Flier does not believe familiarity will breed contempt under Farrell.
“It is definitely great that he has worked within the system with a lot of the players,” he said. “It is nice to have someone who I’ve worked with in the last few years. He will have his own ideas on how he wants to do things and he will also have learned from Joe and take some of those ideas to go with his own.”
As a defence coach, Farrell’s reputation is sky high – or it was, at least, before the Ireland team’s performances fell off a cliff in 2019.
Some of the worst results of the Schmidt era came in the last 12 months, and Farrell’s team will be watched closely in the coming months to see if he can help the side back to the form that saw them beat New Zealand twice and pick up a grand slam.
Van der Flier’s openside flanker role is one that plays a key part in the defensive setup, and he’s in no doubt that Farrell’s abilities to motivate a defence — and one that uses that to attack — will reap rewards.
“Certainly with his style of defence, we want to go out and enjoy defending, we want to get the ball back, that would be something he would say a lot.
“In terms of being in an Irish team where he has been the defence coach he makes you want to enjoy defending. His team talks and the way he motivates you, you are so pumped up. You really enjoy the chance to defend. The glamorous thing is to attack, lovely passes and score tries. He has such a passion for defence that it definitely rubs off on me anyway.”
Van der Flier is likely to be one of the first names on the Ireland team sheet when the Farrell era kicks off in next year’s Six Nations, but there’s never been more competition – with some new faces eager to make their own impression in the backrow.
Will Connors, so impressive for Leinster lately after overcoming injury issues last season, is one of the uncapped players heading to camp this weekend, but competition is not something that bothers a player who has rarely known anything else.
“Will’s performance against Glasgow was unbelievable and it puts a lot of pressure on, but there’s always been pressure. It’s just the nature of how it is and has been at Leinster, I know I need to be at my best each weekend, and in training,” he said.
“I don’t know what it would be like without that pressure — I haven’t experienced that. That’s just what I’ve had to do and it’s good for motivation, I can’t afford not to be on my game.”