Josh van der Flier: We don’t like Munster very much and they don’t like us

Josh van der Flier has already ticked an amount of boxes in his nascent rugby career.

Part of the crew that lowered New Zealand’s mast in Chicago, he has tasted Six Nations action aplenty, toured South Africa with Leinster and he came close to a first Champions Cup final appearance last season when Clermont Auvergne had five points to spare in the penultimate round.

At just 24, there’s plenty of time and scope to add to all that but he’s particularly keen to get a proper crack at Munster. His exposure to the famed rivalry to date has amounted to nothing more than a few cameos off the bench.

Both came two seasons ago: 10 minutes at the fag end of a Christmas meeting at Thomond Park when Leinster were easing to a 24-9 win and just under half-an-hour four months later when the hosts edged a 16-13 PRO12 encounter at Aviva Stadium.

He remembers them slightly differently. Van der Flier spoke this week of a combined 10 minutes banked between the two, and of an Aviva contest that was in the bag by the time he came on, but the sense of unfulfillment stands regardless of the impaired recall.

“I don’t remember doing anything really. Couple of tackles and hit a ruck or two.”

A Wesley College graduate, he is of the Leinster generation that came of age in the wake of the golden era with its three Heineken Cups and the most memorable of the meetings with the southern cousins but he is adamant that the derby still holds the same allure today.

“It’s the game everyone wants to play in. There are obviously semi-finals and finals and stuff but other than those this is probably the biggest game of the year. We don’t like them very much and they don’t really like us, so it makes for a good game. I’ll be very physical.”

He was never fortunate enough as a schoolboy to nab a ticket for those Munster meetings of old but he followed them assiduously on the box and a younger, more impressionable van der Flier might have even shed a tear or two come the final whistle, win or lose.

It’s an admission that demands more detail.

“I would have been a bit more emotional when I was younger. Things might mean a lot to me but if I am very sad or very happy I wouldn’t really show it that much. I cried after the (Clermont) semi-final there last year. Other than that, it’s been a long time. Maybe when we got knocked out at school.”

Emotion will have its place this weekend. Channeled properly it can add to performances both individual and collective, not least when faced with a Munster back row that will likely be spearheaded by CJ Stander, one of those van der Flier knows well from Ireland camp.

So, how to stop him?

“It’s the same as any good player: you have to get at them early and don’t give them time to get into the game. There’s no point in tackling him high, he bounces people off. For me anyway I’ll just try to tackle him low and try to get into him early. That’s all you can do. He’s a very good player and you try not to give him space.”

Both sides have now reintegrated their British and Irish Lions, most of them anyway, but this derby meeting has been compromised before by the difficulties inherent in mixing and matching personnel before Europe and Leinster’s prep has been made all the more difficult for the recent spell in South Africa.

A lucky enough 21-13 win over Edinburgh was registered at the RDS last Friday and the hope is that the province will gel that bit better after a solid week spent amidst the familiar comforts of their base at UCD.

“Last week, our accuracy was down a little bit and I suppose with the lads coming back in to play, it does disrupt things a little bit. It’s hard to be really fluid in lads’ first game back. You could see in pre-season as well, when everyone is having their first game back it’s always scrappy.

“So the lads will be good for the bit of game time at the weekend and hopefully we’ll be sharp coming into the weekend.”

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