ON THE OFF chance that the uber-positive Josh van der Flier ever started to wallow in self pity about missing the Heineken Champions Cup final through injury, rugby ensures he never has to look far for someone who understands.
The same ACL which took him out of Ireland’s Grand Slam push in game one also kept him from lending his weight to Leinster’s double triumph last year. Now, we had been told, he was out for the remainder of the season with a groin injury.
But Van der Flier’s blend of diligence and an insistence on continually doing more has given him an outside chance of returning in time to face Munster in the Pro14 semi-final on 18 May.
That timeline, coupled with his fully fit team-mates enjoying a rest day as the ‘domestic’ tournament held its mid-bank holiday press day for the next knockout round, brought Van der Flier and Felipe Contepomi to the same table.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
Contepomi, of course, also suffered an untimely injury that ensured he had just a watching brief when Jonathan Sexton came of age while bringing Leinster their first European title in 2009.
“It’s not the best thing,” says the Argentine, “but when you understand that you play in a team where everyone understands that the team comes first, it’s easy to deal with it.”
The class of 2009. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
The team coming first means that each squad member must find a way to row in behind those with a playing role; extending knowledge, keeping a positive beat about the changing room or simply just being there for someone to hop a ball off.
“I’ve been going to all the forwards meetings and team meetings,” says Van der Flier, “if there’s anything I can pick up on, or help – even if it’s just someone who wants to practice a few passes before they go training, it’s nice to be able to contribute in some way.
“Everyone’s just rooting for a team performance. Even if it’s your competition, they always want you to get better and that’s what we try to do.
“Then, I suppose, just being around the environment and being as positive as you can. Trying not to drag anyone down if you’re having a grumpy day because you’re injured – that’s no good to anyone.”
Unfortunately, Van der Flier has too much experience of this already. Injuries – physically being unable to work – are tough to contend with at the best of times, but at the business end of the season when ticker-tape-filled photos are taken and emblazoned on memories and murals, it’s a doubly bitter pill to choke down.
“Not a nice part of the season to be missing. What I did last year was just try to put myself in the mindset of being a fan. Tried to help out where I can, but tried to enjoy seeing the lads perform at the weekend rather than thinking: ‘oh, what if i was out there’, you can get down on yourself a bit.”
Van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock celebrate in Bilbao. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“We have meetings and training and then for Bilbao, the lads are gone two days before the game, and then you don’t see them. So it’s a waiting game, watch the game, enjoy the game and try not to get too stressed.”
Thankfully, this time around, Van Der Flier may at least have a physical part to play on the training ground. And he will be more than a fan when events unfold in Newcastle, he will be preparing to push standards again for the meeting with Munster.
“Everyone feels part of it, even if you’re injured,” says Contepomi, “that’s our culture, Leinster’s culture. Everyone has to play their part, whether you’re on the starting XV, on the bench or with a suit — everyone plays their part.
“That’s what the players feel, that’s what I felt 10 years ago. And That’s what probably makes the difference to go and win.”
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