Josh van der Flier and Neve Jones scoop Rugby Writers Ireland awards

Irish flanker hoping to be fully fit to face the Springboks for a first time

It might be the least surprising thing that happens this year. Josh van der Flier, on winning the 2022 Guinness Rugby Writers Ireland Player of the Year award on Wednesday, is not about to get carried away. That, after last year’s standout season from the blindside Irish flanker, is no great revelation.

Neve Jones, the Gloucester-Hartpury and Ireland hooker, was also named Women’s Player of the Year in the awards ceremony in Dublin on Wednesday night.

Taking time out to appreciate personnel achievements for Van der Flier is like hitting the ruck at the right angle or carrying into contact, all a work in progress.

“It’s very special, it’s kind of a strange – a funny feeling to get an individual award, but very special and I appreciate it,” he said. “Actually, I find it very hard in the middle of the season.”


Contact with Van der Flier off the pitch is always the opposite sensation from what you might expect if you met him on the pitch. Whatever the in-competition opposites of moderate, understated and humble might be, Van der Flier fits all.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to side with the Triple Crown-winning player following a summer where Ireland also won their first ever series in New Zealand, which propelled them into the number one position in the world.

In that sense Ireland’s rise to be among the best has mirrored the elevated standards of the 29-year-old, who is hoping that an injury to his ankle will have recovered for Ireland’s opening November international against South Africa next week.

“I’m rehabbing away,” he says. “I haven’t been on the pitch yet. We’re not going to rush anything this week, building in and hopefully be flying next week,” he says adding any celebrations could be muted.

“Go out for a nice dinner or have your favourite sandwich with a few chips on the side or something that’s a bit of a treat.”

Building in, adding on, working through have been Van der Flier’s stock phrases in the drive to continually improve in different ways. Bringing form into this season has been no different, his high energy levels and the busy red scrum cap rarely out of camera shot.

“There was a phase last year where I couldn’t get a poach for the life of me,” he says. “So, I started barging the ruck and trying to disrupt it that way and that went well.

“I’d find my carry might go well one game, then it might not go as well the next game. Part of it is the opposition you play, sometimes defences can be really good and not so good.

“It’s just fine-tuning. It’s worked well the last few years to focus on something. So, if I want my tackle to be really good you might switch off some other things, it’s trying to get that all-round bit going well.”

Fitness for the Springboks game next week has become more important to Van der Flier than it otherwise might. After 43 caps, he has never played against them.

“World champions, they’ve been the team to beat the last few years,” he says.

“I’ve never played them. I missed out on a few games through injury so it’s a game I’m very keen for. Even playing against the provincial South African teams, the bigger men than we’re used to and that brand of rugby – it’s very exciting. Obviously, playing against the likes of [Siya] Kolisi would be class.”

Ireland has to be smart competing against bigger sides. In that, playing against France and South Africa have become similar experiences, where countering physical dominance takes particular accuracy and discipline.

“You could definitely compare, having played the South African teams in the URC and the French teams in the European Cup, there’s definitely similarities there in how they want to play the game,” he says.

“But definitely it’s a challenge. You could say that traditionally there are easier teams for Ireland to play than South Africa but it’s what you want to do, you want to challenge yourself.”

A request likely to be granted next week.

Jones also enjoyed a tremendous season. Outstanding performances in the 2022 Women’s Six Nations was coupled with a big display on the summer tour to Japan with a hat-trick of tries in the opening Test match.

Guinness Rugby Writers Ireland awards

Player of the Year – Men: Josh van der Flier; Women: Neve Jones

Sevens Player of the Year – Men: Terry Kennedy; Women: Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe

Dave Guiney Team of the Year: Ireland

Club of the Year: Enniscorthy RFC

Tom Rooney Award: Mick Dawson (Leinster CEO)

Hall of Fame: Phillip Matthews and Mick Galwey

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times