Van der Flier shoutout adding to Connors' motivation

Josh van der Flier had hardly been announced as the best men’s performer across 2022 when he started talking about Will Connors
Van der Flier shoutout adding to Connors' motivation

MOTIVATED: Will Connors of Leinster. Pic: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Working your way back from injury can be a lonely, thankless task so it can’t do a man in that situation any harm to be name-checked by the new World Player of the Year at a glitzy gala event in Monaco.

Josh van der Flier had hardly been announced as the best men’s performer across 2022 when he started talking about Will Connors and how his Leinster teammate had usurped him in the club’s back row less than two years before.

It was a revealing window into the fickle nature of a contact sport.

Connors was flying back in late 2020, putting in eye-opening performances for the provinces on a weekly basis that earned him a call-up to Andy Farrell’s squad and the first of nine senior caps, against Italy in November of that year.

Five of his caps were starts and this wasn’t even the first time van der Flier had been overtaken for the slot of openside with Ireland. In 2018, it was an injury he suffered himself in Paris that opened the door for Dan Leavy’s standout season.

Leavy has since had to retire - due to injury - but van der Flier responded to that challenge, and to Connors’, by reinventing himself and, in the process, transforming into a recognised giant of the global game.

“It’s a testament to the work that he does off the pitch,” says Connors. 

“He’s always pushing himself to work on things. Everyone jokes about ‘oh he has worked on his carrying’ but he worked on that a lot. He got to enjoy the fruits of it. He is one of the top carriers in world rugby. That’s a credit to him.

“We always worked together. The same with Scott Penny, we are always trying to feed off each other, trying to improve. Say Scott’s great over the ball, you are trying to work with him to develop that part of your game. You are always trying to pick the best from each player and build in into your own game.

“It is a motivation, you want to get to that level and you are constantly trying. Everyone wants to be in that jersey. To get there you have to operate at a level just above (everyone) else. It’s going to take time and going to take a lot of practice.” 

 Connors is only 26 but he has been pestered by injury with Achilles, ACL, knee and hamstring just some of the ailments suffered. 

His latest is a bicep issue picked up in October and which will keep him out for another few weeks yet.

The hope is that he will be available this side of Christmas and, this being rugby, there is every chance that someone else’s misfortune will offer the chance to go about playing catch-up with van der Flier and everyone else.

“Exactly and it is (about) being available. Unfortunately there are times in any team where a few lads get injured and if you need to be just available to be in the position to get the chance to express yourself and put on the jersey.”

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