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Van der Flier is relishing his first crack at Les Bleus

 

By Cian Tracey

This weekend will see Josh van der Flier tick a few things off his bucket list; play France, run out at the Stade de France and visit Paris - all for the first time.

Yesterday, after the captain's run, the squad were afforded some down time, and they strolled around the city, taking in some of the sights.

For most, they will have seen it all before, but Van der Flier has never even been in Paris before, let alone played France in his professional career.

The flanker's form with Leinster this season and, indeed, his performances in each of the nine international caps he has won to date, has been immense.

Competition for places in the Ireland starting XV has never been as strong, particularly in the back-row, even without Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, but it is testament to how highly Joe Schmidt rates Van der Flier that he was given the nod ahead of Dan Leavy and Jordi Murphy, who has often been the Kiwi's go-to man for big games.

Van der Flier missed the autumn series with an ankle injury which left him playing catch-up, but he is parachuted straight back into the team for the Six Nations opener.

With an uncapped 19-year-old starting at out-half for Les Bleus, Van der Flier will be tasked with making Matthieu Jalibert's evening as uncomfortable as he possibly can.

"They have obviously picked him for a reason," he maintained. "We had a look at him and he is dangerous, a really good player. He has good feet, he is a distributor of the ball. He must be nervous and excited.

"You don't want to give him an easy game whether it is putting pressure on their kicks, the whole team has to do it. It is exciting playing new opposition. We will try and put on as much pressure as we can, that's the way we are defending anyway."

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