Josh van der Flier can't wait for Bath clash as Leinster build momentum

'There's been a lot of training, a lot of hard work, so it's good to get off to winning ways again.' 
Josh van der Flier can't wait for Bath clash as Leinster build momentum

Leinster's Josh van der Flier scores his side's ninth try in the weekend Heineken Champions Cup win over Montpellier. Picture: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Brendan O’Brien

Montpellier were 33 points adrift by the time they reemerged for the second half at the RDS last Saturday and the stadium announcer urged the crowd to welcome "Marseille" back to the field of play.

It was an unfortunate if understandable slip of the tongue given the video that had just wrapped on the stadium’s screen had showcased the port city due to host the Heineken Champions Cup final in May.

If it was an example of someone getting ahead of themselves, even subconsciously, then it has been an isolated incident as the province concentrates on, first and foremost, securing itself as firm a foothold as possible in the round of 16.

Leinster aren’t mathematically guaranteed a knockout place but that’s not in any doubt as they face up to next weekend’s pool finale in Bath after the 13-try, 89-7 shellacking of Philippe Saint-Andre’s Montpellier.

The question is whether they can secure a home berth now despite the loss of those five match points to Montpellier on the back of their Covid outbreak before Christmas. Any thoughts of Marseille and the Stade Velodrome can wait.

“We spoke about it before the game, going out and attacking at every opportunity,” said Josh van der Flier. “You saw it with the quick taps, trying to score as many points as we can, especially with the way we went 28-0 in the last Montpellier game.

“It doesn't put us in the best position so we knew we had to get as much points as we can. Hopefully this week goes well and every point will be important for placings and that sort of thing. It was pleasing to get that amount of points."

Van der Flier is far too nice a guy not to build up their next opponent, but Bath are a washout this season. Mired at the foot of the English Premiership, they have lost seven of their last eight home games in Europe though they have yet to host there in this year’s gig.

The Leinster flanker can at least buttress his respect by pointing to the fact that his European debut came off the bench at The Rec six seasons ago when his second-half try failed to prevent the visitors from going down to a 19-16 defeat.

Leo Cullen has already warned of the heavy underfoot conditions that can take hold at a ground that is sited on the banks of the River Avon but this is basically a game that should allow Leinster move further up the gears after so long on the sidelines lately.

"It’ll be important to focus on this week but getting a bit of momentum back in the season would be great,” said van der Flier. “When we haven't played for a while you kind of feel like there's no momentum. There's been a lot of training, a lot of hard work, so it's good to get off to winning ways again.” 

His own form can go a long way to propelling them forward.

There was a time when he was considered a very good back row but one missing a certain doggedness and a strong enough ball-carrying threat. That impression has been shredded by his performances with club and country through the pandemic.

And he’s not alone in making that leap forward.

Jack Conan has gone from decent option to starting test Lion while Caelan Doris is meeting the high expectations set for him. Leinster have always had a surfeit of good back rows but these guys are finally touching standards set by the Sean O’Briens and Jamie Heaslips.

"They're great,” said van der Flier of his colleagues last weekend. “We've got a good balance. We've had a good amount of involvements each and that's important. Neither Caelan, Jack, or any of the back-rows in Leinster, there's no selfish players there.

“There's times when someone has to be hitting the rucks, someone has to be keeping the space out wide, and I think the lads are good, that if someone is tired someone else can do a bit of work. They're great, world-class players.

"It's a privilege to play in the back row with them. Then you've Rhys (Ruddock) and Max Deegan coming on, you've Will Connors to come back, Scott Penny playing unbelievable, and Josh Murphy was incredible today.

“So there's a lot of very good back-rows around. That's part of it as well, being pushed along by all the competition there is every day in training."

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