Friday 22 February 2019

Clean ball high on the list for totemic Toner

Keeping the Leinster line-out ticking a tall order for big Dev

Former Munster star and now Racing 92 man Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner will renew line-out battles on Saturday
Former Munster star and now Racing 92 man Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner will renew line-out battles on Saturday

The responsibility of Leinster to get out to a solid start in The Champions Cup final is a collective one.

Essentially, Munster's challenge to Racing 92 in the semi-final fell apart in that stinging first quarter.

For all of the French club's power, there were alarming holes in Munster's defence.

Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas are not exactly unknown quantities to Irish rugby.

There had to be a plan to get them to the ground quickly and keep them there.

In fact, Munster took over possession of the ball (69pc vs 31pc) and dominated territory (77pc vs 23pc).

Just when they seemed ready to strike, their line-out would either break down or deliver the kind of ball that limited what they could do with it.

They lost four of 17 throws and a number of others were contaminated by the pressure put on by Racing.

It is a puzzle Leinster line-out caller Devin Toner will have to solve or hooker Sean Cronin will come under even more pressure.

"They are very good at getting up in the air, first of all," said lock Toner.


"Once the hooker knows that someone will be getting up in the air, it puts pressure on him to try and get it over.

"That might mean he might put a little bit more on it and overthrow it."

The commitment to contest can work against Racing as long as Toner can make the right calls.

Once the decision is made to send lifters into the air, the capacity to defend the maul can be compromised.

"They are very good at mirroring, just getting up in the air and putting pressure on," said 31-year-old Toner.

"They do like to close the gap as well and try and disrupt as much as they can."

Once the decision is made to stay on the ground, Racing will take some shifting in the maul.

"On top of that, they are huge bodies. They are a big team," added Toner.

"If you try and maul, they are really good at taking the head off a maul, coming through and trying to disrupt. Their overall defence is really good. That's where Munster struggled.

"They couldn't get that set-piece sorted and get on the front foot."

It is just as well Leinster should have four legitimate jumpers in the air against what is an opportunistic Racing line-out defence.

This is based on the presumption Toner, James Ryan, Scott Fardy and Jordi Murphy - he has recovered from a tightening in his leg - will be chosen on form. Toner is in line to start his first final, having been a substitute for Leinster's three previous final appearances.

"At the end of the day, a line-out is all down to the drills that you do.

"It is all about the throw, it is all about the jump, it is all about the timing. If we strip it all back to basics, if we get our drill right, we should be okay."

If all else fails, just aim for Toner because there is precious little Racing can do about a Leinster line-out executed properly with the tallest man at the apex of his jump.

However, Racing have an ace in their pack in Donnacha Ryan, who could just do to Leinster what he did to Munster.

"When he was here, he was an everyday nice guy. I got on really well with him.

"He'd talk the hind legs off a donkey," said Toner.

"Even if he was injured and not involved, he would always be helping out, always be in your ear, telling you what might work, what mightn't work.

"He spends a lot of time looking over past line-outs and what went well, what worked, what didn't."

The Nenagh man worked behind Paul O'Connell for more years than he would care to recall.


Ryan was never more motivated than when dissecting Leinster's systems.

"I know he has done it on me, on our line-out for years," said Toner. "When we were at Ireland, we would be coming up with calls for Ireland.

"And he would say, 'oh yeah, you did that two years ago with Leinster'.

"[I'd reply] 'I don't even remember that. How do you remember it?'

"He puts his homework in anyway."

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