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Van der Flier: unflappable Byrne will run the show at Twickenham

 

Zero doubts: Josh van der Flier is backing Ross Byrne to shine
Zero doubts: Josh van der Flier is backing Ross Byrne to shine

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Josh van der Flier knows what it's like to be thrown in at the deep end against England at Twickenham and he has no concerns about Ross Byrne's ability to swim tomorrow.

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The flanker made his international debut away to England in the 2016 Six Nations and, while it ended in defeat, he made a positive contribution on the day that marked him out as a key figure for this World Cup cycle.

Despite winning just two caps off the bench against Italy and the United States, Byrne is tasked with leading the Irish back-line against a locked and loaded England team.

Van der Flier has been playing with the 24-year-old since their days at UCD and has no fears over his Leinster colleague's ability to thrive in such circumstances.

"He's been brilliant, I would have played a couple of times on the A team with him. Then he kind of broke into the senior team with Leinster," Van der Flier recalled.

"It's always tough for the younger guys with a few more experienced players around to come in and run the show, but he comes in at training and in matches whenever he's on and he's telling everyone what needs to be done, he'll be running the show just like Johnny would do when he's playing.

"He's an incredible player, he controls the game really, really well. I absolutely love playing with him, he's a very steady head and I've never seen him get panicked or flustered in a game.

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"He's very calm, controlled and a man you want running the show. It's very exciting to be lining out with him, this time in Twickenham.

"From the moment he started playing with the Leinster senior team he's been one of the leaders, one of the voices in training.

"He understands the game really well. He understands defences and what he expects of his forwards and backs.

"He's very assured, he doesn't seem to doubt himself at all and that's very, very impressive to see working."

With Joey Carbery in a race to be fit for Japan, Byrne has a big chance to impress at Twickenham after leap-frogging Jack Carty into the starting XV.

The Connacht star will get a chance to impress, but not before his rival has his audition.

"He's trained really well and it's not his debut, he's had time with us before so that we've got a lot of confidence in him anyway, and I think he built his way through the season," Joe Schmidt said.

"I thought he was maybe not as impressive as Jack early in the season, and I think those two have become really important to us.

"Joey has done well this week. Johnny, he's fine, but he missed a bit of time with his thumb so he's a little bit behind and we know how well he plays for us, we don't feel that he needs a lot of time with the experience that he's got.

"So, for us, the guys that need the time are probably Ross and Jack and they've got the opportunity to do that this weekend, that they'll share a bit of time, I'd say, in the middle.

"Ross's ability to control the game, it's one of the things that was defining between Joey and him at Leinster, probably in that Ross ran the game and Joey ran well individually, but I think it's also something that comes with a rhythm and game time.

"Jack, whenever he came off the bench for us in the Six Nations, I thought he did a super job, so we have a lot of confidence in Jack being able to control the game and we do think he can bring a bit of a change up off the bench.

"Either way, I think they'll both get a bit of game time on Saturday to demonstrate what they can bring to the game."

After a week of warm-weather training in Portugal, Ireland flew to London yesterday ahead of tomorrow's game and Van der Flier says Ireland have been working on negating the English power ahead of their first meeting since their disappointing Six Nations opener.

"You can't give them that momentum," said the 26-year-old, who starts in the back row alongside Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander.

"They're extremely dangerous. Any of the games they've played in the last couple of years they get gain-line, someone like Billy or Mako (Vunipola) makes a big carry, they get quick ball and they're very dangerous.

"You can't afford to give them that, don't let them win the gainline and don't let them get those quick rucks. That's the key.

"They've some incredible ball-carriers, but we've to try and shut them down. Once you shut them down you take away a major threat."

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