‘I’m grateful it’s only 12 weeks’: Van der Flier on track for World Cup

TRUST JOSH VAN der Flier to extract positive strands from a deeply frustrating situation, but in this week of all weeks, his three-month layoff does not seem overly disastrous. Dan Leavy’s misfortune has put his own injury troubles in perspective. 

Van der Flier will again miss the closing stages of the season after undergoing groin surgery two weeks ago, in what was another unfortunate setback for the flanker after he spent eight months on the sideline last year. 

Van der Flier had surgery last month. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 25-year-old was forced off during the first half of Ireland’s Six Nations win over France at the Aviva Stadium and after assessment, the damage turned out to be more serious than first thought, instantly raising concerns over his fitness for the World Cup.

But van der Flier was pleased to report this week that the surgeon was ‘very happy’ with how the operation went and he himself is feeling ‘really good, so far’ as the hard work in the gym begins.

The openside sustained the injury as he jackaled at a breakdown and was hit by a French player entering illegally from the side, resulting in van der Flier tearing his groin as he ended up in a splits position. 

“It was just the way he fell on me,” he says. “I got in an awkward position, I suppose.”

While the breakdown is an integral, and fascinating, part of the game as players and teams compete for the ball, the contest has become increasingly dangerous for defenders, who put themselves in dangerously vulnerable positions over the ball. 

An openside flanker is usually tasked with attacking the opposition’s ball post-tackle, but in a poach position they are exposed and can take huge punishment from a player attempting to clear out, with Sean O’Brien last year calling for referees to provide more protection for the jackaler.

Van der Flier, who relishes the physicality and battle at the breakdown, believes the only danger is when players come in from the side illegally, as was the case for him against France. 

“It is a physical game and if you’re going in for a poach, you have people flying in at you, trying to get you off the ball,” he explains. 

“It is one thing that is dangerous, if someone comes in from the side, you are pretty exposed, your knees, your ribs, that kind of thing. But, refs are quite good about reffing that. When people are illegal, the refs just need to be aware of that.

“It can be dangerous when someone comes in straight from the side, it is not ideal for poaching. Straight-on is fine, I find anyway.

The flanker was injured as he was cleared out. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“I suppose refs just need to be aware that it can be dangerous if someone comes in straight from the side as obviously, that’s not ideal if you’re poaching. 

“I’m not sure what they could do to change it, to be honest. It is part of the game. It is one of the risks of the game, getting injured. It is still good fun. I’m not going to not go in for poaches when I come back. It is physical alright in there.” 

The torn groin and injury lay-off means van der Flier will miss Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup and Pro14 semi-finals for a second season in a row, but this is where his positivity shines through. 

While ‘it is not ideal’ to miss out on the big occasions again, the timing of the injury is not all bad, the Wicklow native insists, as he will return to training in June and fresher than most for the start of Ireland’s World Cup preparations. That’s the plan anyway.

The only concern is that the 17-time capped international will be short on game-time heading towards the cut-off point for Schmidt’s squad selection, and he’ll need to get minutes under his belt in the four warm-up games in late August and early September.

But, after his starring role in the win over the All Blacks, does van der Flier have enough credit in the bank to earn him a place in Schmidt’s plans regardless of an injury-disrupted season? 

“I suppose it’s an incredibly competitive position,” he says. “I thought Jordi [Murphy] was outstanding at the weekend [in the quarter-final], and there’s a lot of back rows playing really well in Ireland. So yeah, once I get back, I’m going to have to be training and playing well to get into that squad.

“It is good to know I will be, as far as timelines go, if I go exactly to schedule I should be back at the start of pre-season into Ireland camp.

Van der Flier was speaking at the launch of the Leinster Rugby Summer Camps. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

“I suppose it wouldn’t be ideal if I was kinda rushing back or arriving at the end of the pre-season but hopefully, it all goes to schedule and then I will get a full pre-season which will give me a springboard for the year.” 

Van der Flier has endured his own injury hardship and misfortune over the last two years, and he can certainly empathise with what Leavy is currently going through as he gets his head around the horrific and cruel setback he was dealt last weekend.

“It’s terrible really,” the former Wesley College man adds. “I’m absolutely gutted for Dan. I had something similar last year and there’s not really much you can say to console anyone. 

“It is a long time out for him and missing the World Cup is unfortunate for him. Everyone is pretty gutted.  We won at the weekend but, in the changing room after, they wheeled him in on the bed to hang out with the lads. It was a sad atmosphere for him. It’s tough for him.

“You can get easily caught up with little niggles you have. Then, you see someone who is out for an extended period of time, like Dan, and it does put things into perspective.

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“I am grateful it will only be 12 weeks for me even though it is not ideal.”

Gavan Casey and Ryan Bailey are joined by Bernard Jackman to look back on a thrilling weekend of European rugby on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

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