Victory over Australia on Saturday would see Ireland complete a full set of wins over the Southern Hemisphere’s big three teams in the same calendar year, for only the second time in their history.
Following on from their historic 2-1 series win in New Zealand, Andy Farrell’s men began the Bank of Ireland Nations Series with a bruising 19-16 defeat of the Springboks. The Wallabies now stand between them and a November clean sweep.
Ireland claimed the scalps of South Africa, on tour in Cape Town, and both the All Blacks, in Chicago, and Australia in Dublin within the space of five months, back in 2016.
Farrell’s side are eyeing up their twelfth home triumph on the trot this weekend, with their impressive run of results – only France and New Zealand have beaten them in 19 Tests – seeing them climb to the top of the World Rugby Rankings.
Asked about the team’s consistency across the last 20 months, flanker Josh van der Flier said: “It comes down to a lot of things. We’ve had a good focus on working with the likes of Gary Keegan, kind of mental skills coaching, and individually lads making sure they have their own prep right.
“So, each individual is trying to prepare as well as they can to get that consistent performance, and then I think as well, the focus on learning from previous games.
“Trying to do the basics really well, a lot of the times when we play well it’s not necessarily the fancy things coming off, but it’s just doing the really simple things.
“Sometimes you get more glamorous moments, but trying to do the basic things really well, the coaching staff have driven that really well over the last couple of years.
“Certainly it comes down to learning from mistakes, willingness to improve, and as I said, individuals trying to get themselves as good as they can.
“I suppose I should also mention the competition (for places in the squad), I think in every position at the moment there’s a lot of competition. People pushing for places.
“It means that every player, whoever is in any position, really has to be performing at their best and they know there’s a bit of pressure behind them. It all feeds into having better performances.”
Individually, both van der Flier and captain Jonathan Sexton has been recognised for their talismanic 2022 performances with nominations for the World Rugby Men’s Player of the Year award.
It is a measure of the strides made by Ireland, in this just Farrell’s third year at the helm, that the Wigan man is up for the World Rugby Coach of the Year accolade, and both Dan Sheehan and Mack Hansen are in the running for the Breakthrough Player award.
2022 has already been a much-decorated year for van der Flier both personally and professionally, with his wedding to long-term girlfriend Sophie in August sandwiched by his EPCR European Player of the Year, Leinster Player of the Year, Rugby Players Ireland Players’ Player of the Year and Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year award wins.
Commenting on his World Rugby nomination, the Wicklow man admitted: “It’s obviously a lovely thing to be nominated for. I’m very grateful for being part of a very good team that’s done really well this year in Ireland, and obviously with Leinster it’s gone reasonably well as well.
“It’s a very pleasing thing to get. It’s nice to get reward for hard work, I guess. Things have probably gone my way a good bit this year, kind of getting the bounce of the ball here and there.
“It’s strange. We’re in the middle of a Test match week. It’s obviously a nice thing personally, but you kind of have to switch on pretty quickly to getting prepped for Australia.”
The Leinster back rower was particularly pleased for Farrell’s efforts to be acknowledged on a global scale, the stellar Coach of the Year line-up also featuring 2022 Grand Slam winners Fabien Galthié and Simon Middleton, as well as Wayne Smith who coached the New Zealand Women to Rugby World Cup glory.
“I suppose it’s testament to Andy and the coaching staff that they’ve managed to bring out the best in a lot of us. When the team does well, all the other players, everyone that’s playing looks better as well.
“We’ve a really good group at the moment, look at the quality of player in each position. I think when you have that amount of quality and good players, it just makes everyone around them look good as well.
“It’s nice especially for Andy (to be nominated). He’s been brilliant in developing the group and trying to help us improve as much as we can.”
Van der Flier and his team-mates know they will have to be at their best to beat an Australian team smarting from narrow defeats to France and Italy. The Wallabies, ranked eighth in the world, are traditionally at their most dangerous when written off.
Farrell’s charges will be back at the Aviva Stadium in less than three months’ time to host France in the second round of the Guinness Six Nations. They are determined to take some hard-earned momentum with them into such a pivotal year.
“When a team loses I suppose you see that there’s weaknesses there, but then probably more so you see that they’re going to be pretty fired up and annoyed having lost and I’m sure they’re disappointed,” insisted van der Flier.
“You sometimes get that kickback reaction, so we’ll certainly be expecting a very fired up Australian team, I reckon.
“It was obviously a tough game against South Africa. Last week was a different challenge, I guess, against a very good Fiji side. We were kind of disappointed with a good few elements of our performance.
Definitely very motivated to play what will be a very good Australian side. They have a lot of threats, it will be a very different style to South Africa.
“We’re certainly very excited to try and finish with our best performance. It’s certainly been a focus to try and keep on improving week on week, and I suppose there’ll be things we want to fix up from last weekend.
“We definitely want to finish this block of games with a performance we can be proud of that can hopefully set us up well for the Six Nations.”