‘A great role model for the rest of the group’: Cullen praises meticulous JVDF

EVEN AS THE heavens opened over the RDS this afternoon, Josh van der Flier remained on the pitch after Leinster’s captain’s run to work on his skills with Emmet Farrell.

With place-kickers Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne the only other players still left in the rain, van der Flier spent 10 minutes with Leinster’s kicking coach Farrell fine-tuning his handling off the greasy surface.

Van der Flier is back from injury to start for Leinster. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

After being dealt another cruel injury setback during the Six Nations, and being initially ruled out for the remainder of the season for the second year running, it would have been easy for the flanker to wallow in self-pity.

But the 26-year-old has again shown remarkable powers of recovery to defy an initial medical prognosis and return ahead of schedule, providing a welcome boost to Leinster for tomorrow’s Pro14 semi-final against Munster [KO 2.30pm, eir Sport/Premier Sports].

Having bounced back from a serious knee injury to star in Ireland’s win over the All Blacks last November, Leinster had no concern over pitching van der Flier straight back into their starting XV.

The Ireland international is known for his hard-working attitude, meticulous approach to everything he does on and off the pitch and admirable diligence during rehab, meaning he is now back after a three-month lay-off fitter and stronger than before.

“Josh has worked incredibly hard to get himself back which is great,” Leo Cullen said this afternoon. “At the time, I didn’t think he would be back in time but he has worked very, very hard. He is so meticulous Josh and he has given himself every chance. He trained hard last week and re-integrated back into rugby and has come through everything.

“It’s good to have him back in there and especially at this time of year it’s important when you get a couple of guys back. It’s a huge boost to everybody.”

Van der Flier will win his 72nd Leinster appearance at openside on Saturday in a back row unit alongside captain Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan.

Cullen added: “There are lots of guys of a similar mindset for sure, but yeah Josh, he’s always finding something additional that can help him.

“A pretty amazing mindset he has so he’s definitely a great role model for the rest of the guys in the group. He’s meticulous in everything he does, has himself in unbelievable shape so hopefully, he’ll go well tomorrow.”

Cullen has made four changes to his side for the visit of Munster to the RDS, with Dave Kearney, Byrne, Ruddock and van der Flier all drafted into the starting XV from last weekend’s Champions Cup final defeat to Newcastle. 

Cullen speaking at today’s press conference. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

It means Sexton and Scott Fardy are held in reserve on the bench, while Seán O’Brien didn’t come through training yesterday and misses out on a final appearance in blue at the Ballsbridge venue.

Leinster have also opted to reshuffle their resources onto the bench, with their front row replacements changed en bloc, while Nick McCarthy is named as the back-up nine ahead of his summer move south.

When asked about his decision to select Byrne at out-half ahead of Sexton, Cullen explained: “There are a lot of different factors but ultimately for us, we have come off a huge final which we’ve lost, unfortunately. And very similar in terms of how we tried to manage the group last year, we’re trying to get a bit of fresh energy into the team and it also gives us a lot of experience coming off the bench, particularly with Johnny and Scott Fardy. Having those two leaders to call on later in the game if required, so there’s a little bit of that in it.

Dealing with the mental and physical toll of last weekend’s defeat, Cullen added that the players involved in Newcastle were keen to get back out on the pitch and atone for last week’s loss.

“It’s trying to get a bit of a balance from our end, but guys have tried to park last week and everyone is keen to get back playing,” he said.

“When you lose a game, particularly a big game it takes a while to get over that disappointment. Sometimes the best way is to try and get out and play again.

“So, hopefully that will be the case this week for us.”

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