Josh van der Flier plays the match and not the occasion to help deliver Grand Slam

‘I’ve been trying just to prepare the way I would for a normal game, not think about the consequences’

First on the pitch, Josh van der Flier kept his eyes down, refusing to take in the panorama of the stands, or so it seemed from a lofty perch, perhaps afraid that he wouldn’t be able to regulate the emotion or the adrenaline if he allowed himself to savour the atmosphere on the occasion of his 50th cap.

The World Player of the Year awaited the arrival of his team-mates, his isolation slightly incongruous with the fact that he was in a stadium full to the brim. An hour and a half later, he broke off a lap of honour to offer his thoughts. No one remembered to ask him about the half century of appearances in a green jersey, and true to form, he was far too modest to drop it into the conversation.

He opened with an overview of the occasion and the achievement. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, just so much pride to play for this country. To do it with this group is incredible. The support has been unbelievable throughout and it’s nice to do it for them, and for our families all here at home.”

The result supersedes all other concerns, performance values and matters of that ilk but for three quarters of this match it was an uncomfortable watch. Ireland couldn’t find their playing rhythm, undone by mistakes and an England side were courageous and hard-nosed in the way they contested the game even after fullback Freddie Steward had seen sent off on 38 minutes.


Van der Flier acknowledged: “They [England] were brilliant, full credit to them. It’s tough going down a man with a red card but they made it incredibly tough for us in the second half. We managed to pull through, but it was a really good performance by England with their backs against the wall. They definitely deserve credit.”

Composure and trust have been calling cards for this team when times got sticky earlier in the campaign and those virtues were once again in evidence. “We’ve had a bit of adversity in games throughout this championship,” admitted Ringrose. “It was [about] trying to stay calm and stick to the system, to keep performing and not relax. That was the pleasing thing about the game. We’re just thrilled to pull it out and get a win because there was obviously a lot of pressure with everyone talking about a Grand Slam. To achieve it is incredible.”

So, was there scope to enjoy any part of the occasion? The Irish openside flanker smiled: “I was trying not to but there were a few times I heard The Fields of Athenry and the crowd were going mad, it was pretty special. There were some special moments and I enjoyed them for a split-second and then you just switch back into it and try to get the job done.”

He was asked about a couple of his team-mates and their impact on the game, captain Johnny Sexton who broke Ronan O’Gara’s Six Nations points-scoring record and two-try hooker Dan Sheehan.

Van der Flier enthused: “He’s [Sexton] a hero, what a man. I’m so happy for him. To see him going around with the trophies, with his kids, all his family here, he deserves every bit of it. [Dan] he’s some athlete. He took a bit of a knock last week, so he was fighting hard to get back fit for this game.

“He was unbelievable, a really top performance from him. He’s a world-class player and it was great to see him get over the line.”

So how does it feel to be part of history? “Very special. I don’t think it will sink in the whole week. I’ve been trying just to prepare the way I would for a normal game, not think about the consequences of a win. I was just trying to play the game. I’m sure it will sink in soon enough but it’s incredibly special.”

Someone asked a question about the World Cup, he answered politely, but it was a half-hearted inquiry. It’s about staying in the moment. A Grand Slam. That’s enough to be getting on with for now.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer