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Leinster unleash van der Flier from World Cup Shackles

It's a different Josh van der Flier that we're seeing in Leinster. Joe Schmidt's Ireland couldn't...

Off The Ball
Off The Ball

15:50 25 Nov 2019



Off The Ball
Off The Ball

15:50 25 Nov 2019


It's a different Josh van der Flier that we're seeing in Leinster. Joe Schmidt's Ireland couldn't get the best out of the openside flanker during the World Cup.

Ireland's regression in style of play constrained his ability to impact games. He still played well, but his role in the system muted the stronger areas of his skill set.

That doesn't happen at Leinster. His strengths have been accentuated the past two weeks by a more expansive and adventurous style of play.

He's encouraged and set up to play in space.

During Leinster's first European Champions Cup game against Bennetton, Van der Flier's highlight moment was his assist for Jonathan Sexton's bonus point try.

That assist came off a flowing move when he showed winger-like acceleration to catch up to Sexton after the out-half had broken through the defensive line. Leinster's typical brand of expansive, adventurous rugby was on show in that game and it allowed Van der Flier to thrive. Saturday's game against Lyon turned into an 80-minute arm wrestle.

Van der Flier still had a huge impact on the game.

Within the first five minutes, off the back of a Lyon up-and-under, Van der Flier lined up in a wide channel. He was the primary inside chaser for Sexton's deep garryowen. Sexton's kick hung up in the air for Jordan Larmour to attack.

Van der Flier recognised that and established himself in the right position to react to a breaking ball. When the ball doesn't drop to him, he reacts so that he is then in position to kick the second breaking ball. Van der Flier read the situation perfectly to maximise the territory gain.

The ball made it to the 22, where Van der Flier tackled Jonathan Wisniewski. A clearance kick from this territory change set up Leinster for their first three points of the game.

Leinster built this playoff their own lineout ball. Forwards carried the ball off the base for two phases before engaging Sexton.

Van der Flier and Ronan Kelleher flank Sexton when he gets the ball, the hooker to the inside and the flanker to the outside.

Sexton straightens his line to draw Kelleher's man before popping the ball to him. Kelleher's initial line break isn't clean, but Van der Flier smartly adjusts the angle of his run and changes speed so he is in position for the offload.

That offload lets him further penetrate into Lyon territory.

From there, Garry Ringrose is tackled high to give Sexton his opportunity to kick at goal.

Lyon retained possession in an attacking position from the restart. Notably, they chipped the ball in behind the Leinster defensive line. Once regathered, the ball was moved wide and Lyon had an overlap.

Van der Flier pressured a loose forward when the ball was on the ground, leading to him kicking it through the endzone. It was a missed opportunity for Lyon but also a notable play moving forward for Van der Flier.

Kicking the ball from attacking positions, and especially chipping the ball over the defensive line from the middle of the field, was a theme for Lyon's attack.

The only try of the game came from this approach, but unfortunately for Lyon it came at the wrong end.

Leinster began this sequence losing their own ball on a lineout near midfield. Van der Flier was lined up in the middle of the field from the start.

He knew that he had numbers outside and he knew he had numbers inside. He was never drawn to the first receiver inside. That allowed him to aggressively pursue the kicker.

Van der Flier perfectly timed and executed his block. He then fed James Ryan and positioned himself to receive a pass/clear out the eventual ruck.

Leinster recycled possession from there before driving over for the game's only try.

For the third time in the first half, Van der Flier played a pivotal role in setting Leinster up in an attacking position. Leinster set up a maul from their own lineout ball.

The Lyon pack did an excellent job of disrupting before Leinster could secure the front. As he had been throughout the game, Van der Flier was in the middle.

It was his responsibility to take the ball from the jumper and move it back to the hooker while the maul was being set up. He didn't move the ball back, he recognised the disruption and took advantage of the opportunity presented to him.

Van der Flier escaped for a big gain, showing off explosive athleticism to shed two tacklers initially.

Carrying the ball and setting up attacks is a secondary aspect of being an openside flanker. It's a nice addition, but the foundation of the position is working away from the ball.

Van der Flier covered a vast amount of space. He made tackles in space, located and engaged rucks with controlled physicality in space and was disciplined with his timing/reading of the game in different spots.

According to ESPN, Van der Flier finished the game with 20 tackles.

No other player on the field had more than 16. His tackles were impact tackles also, he missed one at the very end of the game when he was mismatched with a back cutting across the field, but outside of that his tackles were in good positions and he won the point of contact consistently.

Van der Flier had an all-around performance both in defence and attack. He was a primary reason that Leinster retained the ball in good positions and prevented Lyon from scoring a try.

This sequence begins with Van der Flier tackling the ball carrier at midfield. He and Cian Healy combine to force the turnover. Leinster's backs go wide off first phase ball and gain huge territory.

Van der Flier is far behind the play. He shows off excellent range to act as a guard at the next ruck. He then follows that up by clearing out Lyon prop Demba Bamba. It's an outstanding clearout.

There was a significant gap in time between James Ryan being tackled and Van der Flier's arrival. Bamba is already in position over the ball with ideal posture to secure the turnover.

Van der Flier reads this, gets low and drives through the prop forward to turn a turnover into clean possession for Leinster in the Lyon 22.

That athleticism and rucking precision was on show again early in the second half. Rob Kearny ran sideways across the field on a kick return. He ran away from his pack, passing Van der Flier en route. Van der Flier followed and made the first ruck.

He then hit a second ruck one phase later, preventing another likely turnover by taking out blindside flanker Julien Puricelli.

That controlled aggression and power was shown at every ruck and in every tackle that Van der Flier engaged in.

This play at the end of the first half (with a little help from James Ryan) stopped the momentum of his opposite number Liam Gill and helped set the tone of Leinster's confrontational defensive style throughout.

Lyon went on to knock the ball on before they could threaten the try line.

The only consistent threat that Lyon posed to Leinster was their maul. Leinster were fortunate that referee Luke Pearce didn't penalise them further for repeated infringements at the maul.

Van der Flier was rarely involved in maul defence directly.

He filled the 10 channel or established himself as an edge defender mostly. For this turnover, Van der Flier is alive to the ball carrier when the maul is disrupted.

He tackles him without going to ground himself, allowing him to disengage before re-engaging to compete for the ball.

Van der Flier makes it clear and obvious that he disengaged so that it was legal for him to compete for the ball. He's able to work the ball back to Leinster's side before being taken off his feet.

That was the only turnover he was officially credited with but he also had the kick block that led to the try and he ripped the ball from Etienne Oosthuizen when Lyon had advantage in the Leinster 22 on another occasion.

That play went back for the penalty so it didn't officially count.

Written by Cian Fahey.

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