‘What actually changed my mindset was reading a bit of McCaw’s book’

JOSH VAN DER Flier isn’t the most voracious reader of sports books.

Sports documentaries are more his thing, basketball being a favourite focus, but he made an exception for the autobiography of the man many view as the greatest openside to have played rugby.

Van der Flier is back in Ireland’s starting team for tomorrow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Richie McCaw’s book made an impression on him a few years ago and helped to alter his mindset around the breakdown.

“I used to kind of get caught up with turnovers because that was the big thing for me watching McCaw and David Pocock, when you see on the TV however many turnovers they got in the game” says van der Flier, who returns to Ireland’s number seven shirt for tomorrow’s Six Nations clash with France.

“What actually changed my mindset was reading a bit of McCaw’s book and he said he stopped looking at the number of turnovers he got but looked at how effective he was with the number of chances he got. That’s probably more the way I’d look at it.”

Van der Flier isn’t especially renowned as a jackal turnover specialist but he had three over the course of the 2018 November Tests and has made three poaches in Leinster colours this season so far. 

Being selective is key for van der Flier, who invariably racks up big tackle counts – he was Ireland’s top tackler against England with 19 – as he makes good decisions not to chase lost causes at defensive breakdowns.

Van der Flier is also usually near the top of Ireland’s charts for hitting attacking rucks when he starts, his huge work-rate putting him in position to clear defenders away and provide quick ball for Ireland.

The 25-year-old doesn’t go into games with a target quantity of rucks in mind, instead focusing on the quality of his decisions.

Van der Flier with debutant Jack Carty in Italy. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Sometimes I might end up going to too many breakdowns, as in I’m not needed and I’m just parked up doing nothing, and sometimes I was needed in a breakdown and the ball was slowed down because I didn’t get there.

“So I try and read it as I go and make sure I am where I should be and not be wasted.”

The breakdown plays a central role in life under Joe Schmidt with Ireland. 

The head coach is obsessive in his detailed demands on players to ensure lightning quick ball – rucks that last under three seconds – when Ireland are in possession.

“It would be covered in pretty much every meeting, especially team meetings anyway,” says van der Flier of the ruck area.