Josh van der Flier shares training routine and drills needed to survive at the top
"I would have done a huge amount of work with him around getting more flexible, stronger, better technique."
Watch any Leinster or Ireland game when both sides are humming and you will usually see the red scrum-cap of Josh van der Flier all over the park.
While the Wicklow native may not have that global renown for poaching or try-scoring [he has 11 in 110 games for province and country], van der Flier is the tempo setter for two defensive lines, a solid ball-carrier and someone who will, each season, frequently hit between 25 and 30 rucks per game.
Currently sharing the openside duties at PRO14 champions Leinster with Will Connors, the men in Leinster No.7 won three of the four man-of-the-match accolades when rugby resumed after the long Covid-19 break. The other recipient was Leinster blindside Caelan Doris.
Van der Flier, who has teamed up with Avonmore Protein Gold in advance of the 2020/21 season, offered us an insight into the training and extras he puts in, each week, to ensure he is performing to his highest levels. The work that goes in, away from the steady schedule of on-field, video analysis and gym sessions, shows what it takes to make it at the elite level.
"I'd have a few set things I'd do," van der Flier tells us, "and then I'd add to that things that I feel are relevant.
"I'd always, during any match-week, I'd do a bit of tackle work; tackle technique. Not necessarily... I'd rarely do full-on tackles other than if it's done in [full] training or during a game. I'd do a lot of pad work, working on my technique. The idea is try and get the right technique then, on game day, I don't even need to think about it and hopefully I'll get that right technique. So it's just drilling a few of those things.
"I'd always try to do a bit of catch and pass. A good bit of passing. I'd get someone to kick the ball at me, and catch. I'd get them from about 10 yards away, firing a ball straight at me and I'll try and catch them. It's more difficult than any pass you'd get in a game, so once you're in normal training, then it makes it a bit easier.
"I do a few other bits and pieces. Specific to number 7, I do a lot of breakdown work. So, working on hitting the first ruck with Hugh Hogan, who's the [contact] skills coach in Leinster. Bit of cleaning out - clean-outs of rucks - hitting pads or working on poaching technique. All sorts of different drills you can work on. It would either be before or after training is where I'd normally do it.
"Any given week, then, let's say I'm in a position for a kick-off, where I might have to take a high ball. That normally wouldn't happen too often where you're playing back row, but I might practice a few of those during that week. Or maybe there's something I feel I have to add to my game - a bit of foot-work - and I'll add those bits in. But I have those set things that I do every week and I'd tip away every week and hopefully improve."
Van der Flier has been working with Leinster coach Hugh Hogan [pictured above] ever since the former St Mary's man was an Elite Player Development Officer with the province.
Hogan is now listed as Leinster's contact skills coach and his work with the academy and senior squads is more than evident when Leinster are in their pomp. Van der Flier says:
"Hugh would have been in the office at Leinster and I'd grab him to do a bit of lineout catching or a bit of poaching. We've done a lot of poach work over the last few years. For me, poaching and turnovers were something... I wouldn't say I struggled with but I wouldn't have had huge success with.
"I would have been more focused on doing other things, so I would have done a huge amount of work with him around getting more flexible, stronger, better technique and it's actually worked well. And I think you might have seen how well we've dealt with physical contact in games and technical things around the breakdown and tackle. You can definitely see the work he's done."
"He's got some credit now," van der Flier adds, "over the last season or two, but there's a lot of work he's done over the last few years. He really deserves all the credit he's getting now."