Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier believes that his team can hold their form going into next year’s Rugby World Cup in France.
Andy Farrell’s men have enjoyed a splendid Test season in 2022, finishing second in the Six Nations before becoming the first northern hemisphere team to win a Test series in New Zealand.
Take momentum in the tournament
However, Van der Flier believes the approach used by Farrell and his coaching staff will help them going into next year’s global tournament.
“Well I guess one thing Andy Farrell has said when we’ve been in camp is he’ll very much emphasise it’s not like the whole focus is say the summer series and he’s not worried about anything else. He’s very aware of us improving for November now, how can we improve Six Nations,” he told reporters.
“I think with that kind of attitude and that approach, like I know for certain 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.
“It’s hard to tell, there’s a long time till 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.”
Van der Flier holds himself accountable to very high standards as his performances suggest. The flanker was named Europe’s best player last season after an impressively consistent campaign.
“I’ve always been quite critical of myself, I guess,” he says.
“That can be bad when you’re not doing well, then it can become a negative spiral. But then it’s good when things are going well.
“Last year especially, people would say, ‘Oh, you did really well’ and I’d say thanks very much, but in my head I’d be like, ‘I had two opportunities to get a turnover at a breakdown and didn’t get any’ or ‘my line of running was wrong and it was my fault that ruck got turned over’, this sort of thing. I think that helps.”
Linked to the critical nature of Van der Flier was a very serious and intense approach to playing the game, which the 29-year-old has adjusted after discussions with some of the game’s legends.
“Scott Fardy said it to me. He’s Australian and I spoke to George Smith a few years ago and he seemed to have a similar attitude – Scott Fardy would just be like, ‘Relax and play the game.’ That would be very much his style,” Van der Flier said.
“I’ve just tried to go out to games completely relaxed and do what comes instinctively to me and just completely… relax.
“Along the 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 or reserve players 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.”
Chasing other teams
Van der Flier says that after having the target on their backs at Leinster, his side are chasing other teams this season as they look to improve on two near misses in the United Rugby Championship and Champions Cup.
“The last few seasons with the URC, it’s been like, ‘Everyone’s hunting us, everybody’s going to be copying the way we’re playing, people are going to evolve their game to beat us because we’re the target’,” he added.
“Whereas now, we’re thinking, ‘Well, what can we do to beat the Bulls, the Stormers, because they were in the final, to beat La Rochelle?’
“I thought if you took out the ones we lost – the Bulls and La Rochelle games – we had a brilliant season, loads of good games throughout.
“So it’s easy to be like, ‘We need to change everything’ or ‘We need to change lots’. It’s important we take the things we did really well and then make a few adjustments to work out how we can execute on winning those games.”