Josh van der Flier 'on another level' as he gets Sean O'Brien's vote
High praise, from one class openside to another.
On Saturday, Sean O'Brien brought down the curtain on a 15-season career as a professional rugby player with his final game for London Irish.
The former Leinster, Ireland and Lions back-row is still hopeful of lining out for the Barbarians, against England, in what would be a fitting swan song, at Twickenham. For now, he is enjoying a few days and nights with his teammates after climbing out of the club rugby trenches.
The torch has well and truly been passed on to the new generation of Irish rugby stars. It is perhaps telling of that Leinster Rugby production line that two of the players that stepped into the back row after the likes of himself and Jamie Heaslip retired have been nominated for the EPCR European Player of the Year.
On the latest House of Rugby UK, Sean O'Brien and Alex Goode got together - as former winners of the award and multiple European champions - to give their take on who should be crowned EPCR Player of the Year for 2021/22. Heading into this weekend's final between Leinster and La Rochelle, in Marseille, O'Brien feels there is a clear favourite.
Sean O'Brien on Josh van der Flier evolution
While at Leinster, and with Ireland, Sean O'Brien and Josh van der Flier often packed down together or took turns in the No.6 and No.7 jerseys.
O'Brien (2012) and Goode (2019) are former EPCR Player of the Year winners and both feel van der Flier is well placed to add to European accolade to the one he received from his Irish rugby peers, last Wednesday.
"I've been talking about Josh for a while," O'Brien told Goode. "I think this guy is one of the best players in the world, at the minute, in his position.
"His carrying has improved. He was always a tackling machine - a real chop focus - didn't do too much damage at the breakdown, and his carrying was limited. What he's added to his game in the last couple of years is a real change-up to his carry - how hard he is running into holes, running into people, when he has to.
"And then, breakdown-wise and the tackle area, how solid he is there. He is making impact shots now. He's not just getting people on the ground, he's staying in the tackle and buying Leinster time to get their defensive line set."
Goode, who won the EPCR prize after helping Saracens to a third European title, believes van der Flier 'sets the tone' for Leinster and is a 'real leader' for the team. He also teams up with Johnny Sexton in tackling the big centres and No.8s that run down his channel.
YOUR #EPOTY2022 FINAL FIVE 📣
💙 @leinsterrugby's @caelan_doris, @JamesLowe_03 & @joshvdf
💛 @staderochelais' @GregAlldritt
Who's been the standout star in #HeinekenChampionsCup action this season?
Vote now ➡️ https://t.co/skKzqzOCFi pic.twitter.com/adgXcLGZMT
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) May 17, 2022
The winner of the annual award, which was introduced back in 2009, will be announced shortly after Saturday's Champions Cup final. It will be decided by a panel of rugby greats and pundits, including the likes of Bryan Habana, Lee McKenzie, Dimtri Yachvili.
Here is a quick run-down of Sean O'Brien's thoughts on the five EPCR nominees:
SEAN O'BRIEN ON EPCR NOMINEES
ANTOINE DUPONT (TOULOUSE)
He pulls teams apart. He does special, special things in games. What a lot of people underestimate, though, is his defensive game and how good that is.
GREGORY ALLDRITT (LA ROCHELLE)
He’s been excellent. Speaking to Ronan O'Gara about him, he’s just a machine. He never stops going.
CAELAN DORIS (LEINSTER)
He’s really come into his own this season, both for club and country.
JOSH VAN DER FLIER (LEINSTER)
This guy is one of the best players in the world… He is on another level, at the minute, to anyone else.
JAMES LOWE (LEINSTER)
He's a real free spirit... brilliant in the air, unbelievable going forward and such a tough guy. And he's a try-scoring machine... You need someone who is going to stand up and be counted. That is James Lowe.
WATCH THAT FULL EPISODE HERE: