Josh van der Flier lays down fearless marker for start against Aussies
The 23-year old's rise to the top of the international game shows no sign of stopping.
You could forgive Josh van der Flier for expecting a start against the Wallabies next Saturday. The former Wesley College student has, so far this international window, been thrust into the action from the bench and has resoundingly impressed.
Van der Flier entered the fray in Soldier Field in Chicago a mere 25 minutes into the contest after a cruel injury to Jordi Murphy.
For the remaining 55 minutes of the game, van der Flier made a whopping 13 tackles.
This was only bettered by back-row compatriot, CJ Stander. In fact, this defensive effort was also noted by Joe Schmidt, who often is reluctant to heap praise on individual players. Schmidt declared:
"Josh van der Flier just didn't know when to give up. He went hard after the ball and hard after them."
In his most recent appearance for Ireland, van der Flier again made his entrance to the game a lot sooner than Schmidt would have liked. After 22 minutes on the clock, Stander left the field for a Head Injury Assessment, one which he would not return from.
Again, van der Flier was in the unenviable position of trying to make an impact on the game as a first half substitute. Yet he duly obliged.
Ireland found themselves with an unprecedented level of possession and territory against the world's No. 1 side. As a result, it was van der Flier's threat with ball-in-hand rather than his defensive abilities that stood out.
In total, according to scrum.com, van der Flier beat three defenders and made 53 metres, including one clean line-break. We highlight some of these moments below.
In the GIF above, we see van der Flier lose possession as he attempted an offload to Andrew Trimble. In hindsight, it is easy to say that he should have went to ground and recycled the ball but finding Trimble would have meant a certain score.
Ireland's attack throughout the game was lateral. Ireland had no answer to the ferocious opposition defence. In all likelihood, it would have taken an offload in a situation like this for that defence to breached and for Ireland to register their first try.
That is what van der Flier will stand up and own, no doubt, in the video reviews. He will learn from this mistake but his intention should be commended.
In the above example we see the 23-year old apply great strength and footwork to evade the tackle of Brodie Retallick before using his blistering pace to make a clear line break.
Unfortunately for him, and for Ireland, the relentless Kieran Reed hauls him down before he can make further territorial gain.
There were other examples of his attacking intent evident throughout the game.
Although van der Flier may not have the ball-carrying destructiveness that his colleagues Stander or Sean O'Brien possess, he has an excellent burst of pace, he can pick a good line and perhaps more importantly, he has a level of intelligence whereby he can quickly spot a gap.
So far throughout these November internationals, van der Flier has yet to start a game. Based on his performances in the two Test matches against the All Blacks, it will be difficult for Schmidt to ignore the Leinster man when Michael Cheika and his Wallabies come calling.
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