'That's our 7' - Josh van der Flier has now guaranteed himself a World Cup start
"He's a freak."
Sparkling teeth, looking as good as ever - the Josh van der Flier that James Lowe knows and loves so well.
When the winger arrived from New Zealand, in 2017, a rehabbing van der Flier was at the vanguard of the welcome party. Says Lowe:
"Like, if I had a daughter, he could marry her. If I wasn't with my girlfriend, I'd give her to him, you know?! He's such a nice person. He's too nice for his own good."
Van der Flier, by all accounts, is one of the nicest guys in Irish rugby. Everyone that comes into contact with the Leinster and Ireland flanker ends up raving about him. When he was on Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, last year, the news was broken to him during the show that Joe Schmidt would be stepping down after the World Cup. He was genuinely shocked and at a loss for words. It felt like we had just punted poor Baxter...
Put van der Flier out on the pitch, however, and he is a driven performer. He has been one of the outstanding back rows in two impressive Leinster and Ireland units, in recent years, and he narrowly missed out on Lions selection in 2017.
After England pumped Ireland at Twickenham, on August 24, doubts were raised about whether Joe Schmidt's side needed a bit more dog at openside. When Peter O'Mahony switched to the No.7 jersey for the following week's win over Cardiff, many felt that was how Schmidt would go at the World Cup.
Josh van der Flier needed a strong performance against the Welsh first XV and he duly delivered. Jerry Flannery and James Lowe spoke about van der Flier's impact [from 55:00 below] on the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby.
"The guy who stood out for me in the backline was Josh van der Flier," said Flannery. "His acceleration is phenomenal.
"If you go back and look at the game, watch how much pressure he puts on the first receiver and how he forces the pass to be played early. And how quickly he can close the space so when a tackle occurs, he's the first guy in there, freeing up that ball."
Van der Flier was rapid off the line, on Saturday. He cut down the space and options of both Rhys Patchell and Dan Biggar at first receiver very effectively and forced them down the rudimentary path.
The openside, in his red lid, was able to set himself as CJ Stander slowed ball down at the ruck. When Tomos Williams was able to get the pass away, van der Flier was right on top of Patchell and he had to pop the safe pass for some crash ball.
Sitting up in the West Stand over the Aviva Stadium for the game, I was struck to see van der Flier do this all game. He was the one leading the charge and setting the tone for his teammates.
"He is so process-driven," says Lowe. "At the start of the game, before the game and during the game all he is thinking is, 'I'm getting off the line, because that's what they want me to do'. And now everyone is starting to talk about it [his line-speed] and everyone is following the leader. Everyone else is getting off the line with him.
"When it comes down to big moments in big games, if they come up against the All Blacks and Richie Mo'unga has got Josh in front of him, options have all been cut out. He has to give it to the next man over. He's not going to be able to go out the back to Beauden Barrett or Ryan Crotty."
It was not just the manic press for van der Flier, either. He made two clean breaks in the game (level with Bundee Aki and Jordan Larmour) and carried 11 times, in total, for 26 metres with one lovely offload to keep an attack going.
He was a nuisance around the ruck too. Either, as Flannery noted, first man in to clear bodies or making life tough for Williams, the scrum-half:
"I though that [performance] was important," says Flannery, "because Ireland needed to have someone where they could say, 'Well that's our 7' and I think that he did that."
Ireland were always going to miss Sean O'Brien and Dan Leavy, and it would be foolish to state otherwise. Heading into the World Cup, though, van der Flier has given us a sense of belief that our No.7 can mix it with the best, and on the biggest stage.
WATCH THE LATEST HOUSE OF RUGBY EPISODE HERE
The latest episodes sees Leinster star James Lowe join Barry Murphy, Andrew Trimble and Jerry Flannery to discuss his time in Ireland, Leinster teammate Josh van der Flier and how he reckons Joe Schmidt's men will fare at the World Cup.