van der Flier puts himself back into contention for the green seven jersey
Rewind to the November internationals for just a second.
Josh van der Flier enters the series as Ireland's third-choice flanker behind Sean O'Brien and Dan Leavy. O'Brien goes down in the Argentina game with Dan Leavy replacing him off the bench. before the St. Michael's graduate then withdraws the week of the All Blacks game with what the IRFU described as 'general tightness'.
In comes van der Flier. Squad player to starting openside and he has a blinder. Eight runs, 16 tackles, phenomenal workrate and maybe most importantly the trust of Joe Schmidt.
The Leinster flanker retains his spot and starts the Six Nations opener against England before he's dropped to the bench for the following weekend against Scotland. Two steps forward, three steps back.
He's benched for the Italy game, wins his place back in the starting side for the French game before he's injured for the Wales game with a groin injury.
The Irish openside is a merry-go-round. You have a bad game and you're dropped. If you get injured and you might fall out of the squad entirely.
The prognosis for van der Flier was not great.
"He’s back in there, the surgery has gone well for him but again he’s likely to miss the rest of the season unless there is some magic cure between now and then," Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said back in March.
"Josh has been incredibly unlucky and he had been going incredibly well for us this year. He works hard, just another blow for him but hopefully he’ll be able to get himself in good shape again to get ready for World Cup plans."
Van der Flier will more than likely be getting ready for the Rugby World Cup later this year but first he'll have a PRO14 final against Glasgow after a tireless display against Munster at the RDS.
He worked constantly to get backed. Determined to return ahead of schedule, walking around the Leinster headquarters in Belfield calling himself 'Back-man' and when the day finally came he was everywhere.
His impressive display against the All Blacks was underlined by eight runs and 16 tackles. His man of the match performance against Munster was underpinned by eight runs and 15 tackles and two turnovers, including a brilliant strip tackle to swing momentum.
Adam Byrne told me Josh van der Flier gave himself the title of 'Back-Man' as he set his sights on returning before the end of the season
Certainly playing like a man on a mission today.
15+ ruck involvements
2 turnovers won
— Pat McCarry (@patmccarry) May 18, 2019
Ireland have been blessed with some terrific opensides over the last decade but for at least the last decade they've largely been bludgeoning ball carriers in the form of Sean O'Brien and David Wallace.
O'Brien and Wallace were much better players than to just categorise them as ball carriers, they had more strings to their bow than to just bury their head through opposition defences, but van der Flier is very much the complete seven.
He covers huge distances. He doesn't miss tackles. He competes at every breakdown. He wins the ball back for his team and he leaves no stone unturned, working like a dog during his rehabilitation and earning a reputation as a studious player when it comes to his pre-game preparation.
With Dan Leavy more than likely to miss the Rugby World Cup with injury, and with Sean O'Brien axed for the French game and in doubt for today's clash with Munster, as well as being a perennial injury doubt, van der Flier has another chance to catapult himself back into that Irish pack at the most important time with the Rugby World Cup just around the corner.
With no signs of rust and another man of the match medal around his neck, he's put himself in a very good position to grab that Irish seven jersey.