Van der Flier a real thorn in the side of Toulouse

In­tel­li­gence on both sides of the ball a telling fac­tor in Le­in­ster’s vic­tory

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Rugby Heineken Champions Cup - John O’Sul­li­van

In the hurly-burly of a match it can be dif­fi­cult to re­main emo­tion­ally de­tached, cast­ing a dis­pas­sion­ate eye over ev­ery con­tact point, col­li­sion, tackle and ruck, all the while cal­cu­lat­ing the per­cent­ages and de­cid­ing on the right mo­ment to in­ter­vene.

Josh van der Flier pos­sesses the beady eye of a scav­enger, the ball an unat­tended car­cass; it’s a cher­ished at­tribute for any open­side flanker.

His bob­bing red scrum­cap ap­peared to be om­nipresent, whether cours­ing Toulouse play­ers over the RDS turf, be­ing part of the pro­tec­tion de­tail at the break­down, or on hand to take passes or off­loads from team-mates.

That was the per­cep­tion but it doesn’t fully do jus­tice to or prop­erly il­lus­trate the in­tel­li­gence or nu­ances that he brought to his role in Le­in­ster’s vic­tory over Toulouse that cat­a­pulted them to the top of the pool and en­sures that they have reaf­firmed con­trol of their destiny.

Le­in­ster’s pack won this match, all eight con­tribut­ing hand­somely and it would be hard to as­cribe more value to one above an­other. Cian Healy and Tadhg Fur­long were thun­der­ous in their car­ry­ing, Sean Cronin, a try scorer, pro­duced the tackle of the match in rat­tling the fillings of Toulouse out­half Thomas Ramos.

Grafted

James Ryan and Scott Fardy grafted prodi­giously, Rhys Ruddock had an out­stand­ing game as cap­tain and player while Jack Co­nan, an­other try scorer, was no less ef­fec­tive, par­tic­u­larly in us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of foot­work and power to get over the gain-line.

And then there was van der Flier, a link be­tween backs and for­wards, stand­ing sen­tinel in de­fence, fill­ing in wher­ever re­quired and right across the line. There were a cou­ple of high-pro­file in­ter­ven­tions. On three min­utes, as Toulouse sped to­wards the thresh­old of the Le­in­ster 22, he got in over Sofi­ane Guitoune, sur­vived the clearout, and de­spite be­ing turned up­side down, won the turnover.

It was one of less than a hand­ful that he con­tested over the 80-min­utes, not be­cause he wasn’t around, but be­cause he was se­lec­tive. The temp­ta­tion to go after ruck ball as a kit­ten would chase sil­ver paper can be ir­re­sistible but van der Flier’s dis­ci­pline was im­pres­sive.

He recog­nised that in those mo­ments that he could bet­ter serve his team else­where and more of­ten than not that would in­clude sev­eral pos­i­tive ac­tions across a va­ri­ety of game dis­ci­plines. A clas­sic il- lus­tra­tion was just short of the half­way point in the open­ing 40 min­utes when Le­in­ster were crank­ing up the pres­sure in­side the Toulouse 22.

The home side re­tained pos­ses­sion through 26 phases and van der Flier was in­volved on seven oc­ca­sions dur­ing that pas­sage of play that in­cluded car­ry­ing, clear­ing out and en­sur­ing that Toulouse didn’t get a sniff of a turnover – it can ap­pear a per­func­tory re­mit at times – un­til their cap­tain Julien Marc­hand man­aged to sur­vive a clearout and earn a penalty.

Piv­otal mo­ment

The Le­in­ster flanker en­joyed an even more piv­otal mo­ment soon after, Toulouse wing Ch­es­lin Kolbe es­caped through Le­in­ster’s first line of de­fence, only to be col­lared from be­hind by a cov­er­ing van der Flier.

His car­ry­ing and ath­leti­cism were high­lighted in the build-up to Co­nan’s try that spanned the width of the pitch. It took two tack­lers to stop him just short of the line in one cor­ner but when Le­in­ster moved the ball to Adam Byrne on the other touch­line, van der Flier twice cleared Toulouse play­ers off the ball in suc­ces­sive rucks be­fore his back­row buddy plunged over.

The 25-year-old van der Flier was also en­trusted as the

His bob­bing red scrum­cap ap­peared to be om­nipresent, whether cours­ing Toulouse play­ers over the RDS turf, be­ing part of the pro­tec­tion de­tail at the break­down, or on hand to take passes or off­loads

player who col­lected the ball from the jumpers on the Le­in­ster throw to set up mauls, oc­ca­sion­ally re­tain­ing pos­ses­sion as tail-gun­ner, or else feed­ing it back to Cronin. The two were in­volved in a train­ing ground set play switch that came un­stuck when Cronin could not find Rory O’Loughlin on a cut­back run.

Van der Flier’s pace meant he gen­er­ally popped up on the near side of the mid­field de­fence when the French side was at­tack­ing but this was fa­cil­i­tated by his team­mates, who per­formed the ma­jor­ity of the de­fen­sive graft on the fringes. He might had had a try too if Lar­mour had looked right, in­stead of veer­ing left.

He was granted the free­dom to roam in wider chan­nels be­cause Toulouse didn’t select a gen­uine open­side flanker in the back­row. Nar­row in their ori­en­ta­tion up front the French side pri­ori­tised bulk and ul­ti­mately came off sec­ond best.

Van der Flier’s in­tel­li­gence on both sides of the ball stands out and it’s that clar­ity that was an im­por­tant in­flu­ence in the vic­tory.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAN SHERI­DAN/INPHO

Le­in­ster’s Josh van der Flier tack­les Toulouse’s Ch­es­lin ■ Kolbe at the RDS on Satur­day.

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