Friends one week, foes the next.
It’s always been thus for Ireland’s elite batch of internationals, but it will be new ground for Leinster’s Josh van der Flier when Munster come calling to the Aviva Stadium for tomorrow evening’s Guinness PRO12 interpro derby.
It is only a fortnight since he last shared a dressing room with Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan, CJ Stander, and Tommy O’Donnell. Most of them had spent the bones of two months together in Ireland HQ.
Now they find themselves in opposing trenches.
“Before the Six Nations, I wouldn’t know them personally,” he explained. “You wouldn’t even take them into the picture because you’d be more thinking within Leinster about staying ahead of the opposition. You wouldn’t even have thought of the Irish set-up much so it’s changed a lot.”
He should be primed for the battle after a Six Nations which delivered his debut, against England in Twickenham, and a follow-up start with the visit to Dublin of Italy before O’Donnell reclaimed the number seven shirt against Scotland having worn it for the opening fixtures against Wales and France.
A tournament of mixed fortunes, then, for Leinster’s flanker and he admitted it had been somewhat surreal to sit in the stands for the visit of the Scots as the unused 24th man having, rather unexpectedly, been afforded the taste of Test rugby by Joe Schmidt.
“It was a funny feeling. You’re keen to be involved and really want to play, but I did have a couple of knocks from the (previous) weekend. He (Joe) obviously felt Tommy was fresher, which was the way it goes. I was a bit disappointed with it, I suppose.” Disappointed is a word he chose carefully.
Van der Flier had stopped himself halfway through as the word ‘annoying’ escaped his mouth.
Understandable given his youth and inexperience. He is still just 22, after all, and the sum of his appearances for Leinster sits no higher than 21, with all bar six of them banked this season.
It has been, by any standard, a swift elevation through Ireland’s professional ranks and it is interesting that Schmidt should cap a rather slight openside of his tender age while, at the same time, holding back on a rather slight 21-year old centre by the name of Garry Ringrose. So, how did van der Flier find the step up?
“The small margins were the biggest thing I noticed in international rugby. You notice (that) coming back into the PRO12 because there’s such a focus on the small margins, the tiny details that can change a game. That’s what I’ve noticed now.
“It’s just one moment in a game and let’s say you lose that moment — it could be a lineout, could be an opportunity to turn it over at a ruck — and they score a try that could be the game. It’s the small margins, focusing on my own role within the team and do that as best as possible.”
That education continues tomorrow.
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