Josh van der Flier was a man in demand at Tuesday’s United Rugby Championship launch.
eld just outside London, the event attracted members of the English media, who don’t often get to cover the tournament, and to a man they all wanted to speak to the Irish players’ Player of the Year who is being widely tipped to be on the shortlist for World Player of the Year later this year.
At every juncture, the 29-year-old has improved as a player – and the challenge for him now this season is to try and get even better.
The World Cup is the major incentive, but the openside is thinking more about preserving his spot than anything else.
“Looking in Leinster, specifically, at the moment in pre-season, Scott Penny is training unbelievable. Will Connors brilliantly. All the back-rows seem to be flying around in training, scoring loads of tries, so it’s definitely no time to be relaxing and thinking I don’t need to do any more,” he says with a smile.
“There’s plenty of motivation to get going again.”
Taking that smile on to the pitch has been a focus for Van der Flier who took advice from former Wallaby and Leinster lock Scott Fardy about adjusting his approach to rugby.
“That would be very much his style,” he says of Fardy.
“I don’t know if I could have done it (adjust) earlier in my career. I’d work a lot on my habits where if I’m not thinking, I’m not going to fly in the side of a ruck.
“Once you’re playing long enough, you have those habits and don’t have to over-think it.
“When you hit a ruck, you’re not going to do something illegal, because you create a habit of not doing it.
“I’ve just tried to go out to games completely relaxed and do what comes instinctively to me, and just completely . . . relax.
“In saying that as well, along same lines, before a game I used to be really not joking with anyone.
“It was all about there being a game now, listening to my headphones. If I forgot my headphones, I’d be thinking, ‘Ah no, I always listen to music before the game’.
“Whereas now, probably the last three years or so, I would be chatting to the 24th man and asking if he has any jokes for me.
“I try to keep it real casual and relaxed as much as I can – and that’s something I’ve found has worked really well for me, and allowed me to be more relaxed.”
Leinster is the primary focus right now and Van der Flier should be back on the field by the end of the month.
But he knows that there’s a real opportunity for Ireland in the next 12 months – and having been part of the 2019 fall-off after a great 2018, he’s determined to learn a lesson.
“The Irish coaches will all be thinking how can we get better again. And if we keep doing that, we’ll take what went well in New Zealand – and keep pushing forward. That’s probably the approach,” he said.
“There’s a long time until the World Cup but it’s definitely a great attitude to have – and if we can do that, and we can keep that attitude and keep trying to improve, once we’re in camp that should keep us good.”