As part of our ongoing commitment to the development of extraordinary talent and to mark our seventh season as official club sponsors of UCD RFC, UCD club member and current Leinster and Ireland player, Josh van der Flier, meets with Crowe staff to answer their questions.
Josh’s grandparents came to Ireland in the 1950s to open a radiator factory.
Josh, who will be 27 years-old in April this year, was born in Dublin and has lived most of his life in Wicklow town. His dad, Dirk, played for Old Wesley and Wicklow Rugby Club and Leinster under-21s
When he was five years old his father, who coached the Wicklow RFC under-8s team, took him to club training with his brother, Johan. That is where it all started for Josh. He played with Wicklow (he is the first member of Wicklow RFC to earn an Irish cap) until he began boarding in Wesley at the age of twelve. His years at Wesley were formative as there were a number of classmates who were interested in rugby so there “was always a ball in my hand.”
He played scrum-half until he was 14, then was moved to flanker. He played No 8 in his last few years at school, dabbled at blindside for UCD, but is now concentrating on openside. Josh is one of the most successful players to come out of Wesley, another is former British and Irish Lion Eric Miller.
Josh was always interested in playing for Leinster after being a fan since his younger days. He had a trial in fourth and fifth year, which didn’t go that well. But a trial in his final year in school saw him progress to Leinster under-19s.
He made his Leinster debut in the PRO 12 against Zebre in Italy in 2014. It was announced in April 2015 that he had been awarded a senior contract with Leinster.
Prior to that, he was a member of Leinster Academy and had represented Ireland U20 at the Junior World Championships in South Africa 2012, and played for them in the following year's championship in France as well as the U20 Six Nations 2013.
His debut for Ireland was on 27 February 2016 against England in the 2016 Six Nations Championship at Twickenham. He was also named the IRUPA Young Player of the Year the same year.
However, his 2015/2016 season was brought to an end with an ankle injury against Ulster in April and he missed the Ireland summer tour to SA.
He recovered and made his return to the international arena in Solider Field, Chicago - only his third cap in the process – in that famous win over the All Blacks.
Known for his impressive work rate in games, Josh used to hold the Pro14 record for the most number of tackles made in a single game (34) until beaten recently by Jonnie Gray (Glasgow) in a game against Leinster. At the time of writing, he has scored two test tries so far in his career.
Known for his red scrumcap, which is a nod to his school days as he began wearing one when in school, and from then on “people kind of knew me as a lad with the red scrumcap. I wouldn’t be stuck with it but I will probably end up wearing it for the rest of my career. But I would have no problem changing it as I am not superstitious about it.”
Q. Your full name is Joshua – does anyone call him that in his family?
A. “Some people call me Joshua but it would be rare. Richardt Strauss used to call me Joshua and I called him Richardt but no one else could.”
Q. Do you get annoyed at the many different ways people pronounce your name? (for the record is it Fleer – not Fleur or Flyer)
A. “It doesn’t really bother me. You can’t expect everyone in Ireland to know how to pronounce it perfectly.”
Q. Who did you admire as a young player growing up?
A. “In truth there was never one player, I admired so many. I used to love Richard McCaw – how physical and smart he was, that was always something I aspired to be and wanted to replicate.
Players like David Wallace, Shane Jennings and Sean O’Brien who were powerful and the likes of Conrad Smith and Brian O’Driscoll the way they ran with the ball and offloaded – how fluid they were playing. I admired different aspects of many players’ game not just a single player to be honest.”
Q. What did he study at UCD and is this something he wants to continue after rugby?
A. He is not sure exactly what he wants to do but has certainly focussed hard on building his academic CV. “I did a diploma in Sports Management. I got commerce in Galway through the CAO and got offered Sports Science in Wales, but I wanted to stay playing with Leinster and play with UCD where my brother was playing, so I decided to stay and do the diploma.
After the two-year diploma I did a Sports Management degree. I then took a year off studies but felt I should do something else so I did a Sports Psychology certificate, just more out of interest, rather than as a possible career direction.”
Josh is currently in his second year of a business Master’s and MBA. His ambition is to play until he is 35 years, “at that stage I would hopefully have a family and I don’t want to have to start doing an internship, trying to provide for my family and trying to build my way up”. So he feels if he has a masters it will provide a better opportunity to get a job or run his own business after his playing career is over.
Q. Do you have a girlfriend?
A. “Yes. She is a student in her final year in DIT.”
Q. Which Irish player has had the most influence on your career or on your game?
A. “Shane Jennings did a lot for me when I first started. He used to meet up with me and helped me a lot with the tactical and mental side of the game. We would often meet early mornings, even after he retired to analyse video of games and chat through things that went well or where I could improve.
Sean O’Brien was also brilliant. Then there were a lot of players like Richardt Strauss and Isa Nacewa and the other more experienced players that I would always try to pick the brains of. You always try to pick up bits of advice and experience from these kind of players. But even looking back now there were a few players or times when I should have taken the advantage to learn more.”
Q. Do you have a nickname in the squad?
A. “Most people would probably call me Josh but few people call me ‘Chop’ or ‘Chopper’ just because I used to always chop tackle. Kev McLaughlin used to be called that and I think I inherited it from him. Sometimes I am called ‘Bosh’ I guess because it rhymes with Josh!
In school it was any word (or expletive) you can imagine after ‘van der’ – whatever was appropriate whether you were in the good books or bad books!”
Q. You made your international debut in the Six Nations against England in Twickenham – In a game that Ireland lost 21-10 – a pretty daunting debut for any player. What can you remember about the build up to that game and how your felt?
A. “It was nerve-wracking for sure! I remember feeling incredibly nervous – I was almost sick with the nerves – but I think that is normal with any debut. I suppose my biggest worry was not performing well and would I have the fitness. Because the team always say that international games are 10 to 20% tougher than playing provincial games I was worried I mightn’t last the 80 minutes. Looking back now it wasn’t such an issue.”
Josh works hard on ensuring he remains very fit. “Because I don’t have the size that other lads have, I have to have something else. If I can’t run into them I need to be fit enough to run around them!”
Q. After injury later that season – which saw you undergo surgery to your ankle and miss the tour to South Africa. How daunting is it to face the uphill battle to regain fitness and maintain a positive attitude?
A. “The physios and doctors are very good in helping you stay positive when dealing with an injury and the challenge of getting back to fitness. The physios in particular are brilliant as you spend the most time with them and they help you keep focussed on the day-to-day job of healing and rebuilding.
The players too are a big support. Anyone who has had a full career knows what it is like to be injured or to miss games and players rally around those who are injured to help support them.
The Rugby Players Association of Ireland are brilliant as well and have phycologists available as a support if needed.
It has been particularly tough on Dan [Leavy] over the last year or so being injured. He is very much missed from the squad. It is difficult to stay positive when you are in that situation and there is only so much you can say to him, especially as we play in the same position. He was really good to me when I was out injured, really encouraging when it was the other way around and winning the Grand Slam and the Double [in 2018]. It is just the way sport goes but it is really exciting to see him nearly back.”
Q. Do you still live with some of your teammates – Peter Dooley, Tom Daly and Adam Byrne?
A. “Actually our tenancy is up so we are all moving out! I bought a small house in South Dublin a couple of years ago and I will be moving into that with a friend from Wicklow. He doesn’t play rugby so it will be very different.”
Q. How do you like to spend your downtime?
A. “Study mostly! I also started taking up piano, which I love. At the moment it is just following some tutorials on YouTube, but I might do the [piano] grades at some stage, but not while I am finishing off my Master’s.
I wouldn’t really watch a lot of TV. I prefer being outdoors – sometimes I play a bit of golf, or even Crazy Golf. Or I will meet up with my girlfriend and maybe go to the cinema.”
Q. Where do you go on holidays?
A. “If I need a big break from training I might go somewhere Portugal or somewhere a little more generic and sit on a beach for a couple of weeks.
But mostly I like to go somewhere I haven’t been before. My ideal holiday would be a week exploring somewhere new and a week on a beach somewhere.”
And finally, some quick-fire questions:
Q. Hardest opposite number to date?
A. “[David] Pocock was quite difficult to play against, just because of the threat he has at the breakdown. Billy Vunipola was also difficult to deal with and [Justin] Tipuric as a no. 7 would probably be one of the biggest challenges because he is very smart and experienced. He has got that kind of Richard McCaw intelligence, where he is quite niggly and knows all the tricks.”
Q. Non-Irish player you most admire?
A. “Richard McCaw.”
Q. Ever attempted a drop goal?
A. “Only in training, many times, but never in a match!”
Q. What song or party piece did he choose to sing as part of his initiation on his first cap?
A. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…)
Q. Best and worst roommate to date?
A. Best: “Garry Ringrose.”
“He is very professional so he helps get you focussed for the game but good crack also. We would take a few wedges out when in Carton House and practice a bit of chipping. I roomed with him the whole World Cup and he is just a really good guy.”
Worst: “Anyone who snores!”
Q. Favourite & least favourite part of being a professional sports person?
A. Favourite: “Getting to play a game I love for a living. I would play whether or not someone paid me.”
Worst: “Having to play when sore or you have something wrong with you and you still need to perform as best you can.”
Q. What is your guilty pleasure?
A. “Indian takeaway!”
Q. What is the most surprising thing people don’t know about you?
A. “I don’t drink any coffee and I suppose that I am learning to play the piano.”
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