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Monday 10 December 2018

Dev must rule for Ireland to fly high for a second time

Autumn International: Ireland v New Zealand, Live RTÉ 2 (KO 7pm)

Devin Toner will have to be at his very best if Ireland are to have a chance of upsetting the All Blacks today
Devin Toner will have to be at his very best if Ireland are to have a chance of upsetting the All Blacks today
Rob Kearney during the Ireland Captain’s Run at the Aviva Stadium yesterday

It could all be in Devin Toner's hands.

The theme all week has been about the set-piece scrum and lineout, with the latter the speciality of the Moynalvey man.

Ireland captain Rory Best endured something of a horror show there last week, the connections looking strong early on, stretching to breaking point before Toner restored calm.

It took the intervention of Toner to steady the high-flying aspect of Ireland's game.

There is the experience as an expert caller and there is the sheer physical presence of the longest man in Irish rugby with the equally long limbs.

The big man is protective of his fellow men in green even when reminded of how he solved that problem.

"I can see a lot of what's going on when I'm on the bench," said Toner.

"You can see how they're 'D-ing' up, how it's going on, what will work.

"Do you know what I mean? There's an element of that. When I came on, I could see what was happening."

Toner would have also noticed how Brodie Retallick ruined England's lineout in the second-half at Twickenham.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has repeated how "vital" this area will be this evening.

"It is vital because we focus a lot on our first phase and on our attack and our plays," said Toner.

"Obviously, the source of that is the scrum and lineout. It is hugely important for us.

"It is just one of them things we have to get right."

Ireland's avenues to points are narrower and more limited than the All Blacks.

It hasn't been helped by the late withdrawal of Dan Leavy, Josh van der Flier coming onto the flank and Jordi Murphy to the bench.

The lineout is a primary weapon for Joe Schmidt's strike plays where the coach's genius can manipulate the weak link in a defensive chain.

Sometimes, like England showed, it can come from a perfectly executed maul.

"There are weaknesses against every team, if you get a good driving maul," said the second row.

Then again, the Kiwis showed how they could adapt quickly to unforeseen tactics.

"The All Blacks learned from that first drive. They (England) didn't get over for the second or third.

"There are weaknesses in every team. It is just eight people on eight people.

"If you get the right drive, you get the right return."

Sam Whitelock, the lineout caller, and Brodie Retallick will break new ground as the most-capped All Blacks second-row partnership with their 50th time together.

"You look at Whitelock, he's got 107 caps and he's only 30 years old. It's ridiculous. And to play at such a high level for so long," said Toner.

"Retallick, I think there's so much been said about him so far, I can't really add to it, to be honest.

"He's your all-rounder. He can score tries, he tackles, he poaches, he's stealing lineouts, he's winning lineouts.

"Then, Whitelock has a really good skillset, he's great at restarts, they're both great at restarts,

"Personally, as a second row, to come up against the two of them, it's huge for me in my career.

"Hopefully, we come out the other side of it."

Hansen was right when he alluded to the fact that every team that plays the All Blacks treats it like the game of their lives.

It is a game-to-game expectation that they have long been used to.

The suggestion is that Ireland, for instance, need this more than the world champions.

"We don't necessarily need it. We'd like it," said Toner.

"We know we're going to be contenders in any match we go into. We're never that far behind anyone.

"We've grown as a squad, so we'll put it up to anyone."

Schmidt has had a lot to do with what Ireland have become and a second win from four against New Zealand would be rapturously welcomed in his six seasons at the helm in his adopted country.

Toner recognises the changes from the Schmidt of 2010 in Leinster to that of 2018 at Ireland.

"He'd be very similar, he does have his own rocks he needs to stick to.

"He might have upped his intensity maybe, over the years. It changes with different teams and different games."

The increased intensity of Schmidt is part and parcel of the short bursts of time he has to work his magic.

This is the one Schmidt wants above all others, not because it is different, just because it is the one right in front of him.

The same goes for Toner.

Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, K Marmion; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong, D Toner, J Ryan, P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, A Porter, I Henderson, J Murphy; L McGrath, J Carbery, J Larmour.

New Zealand: D McKenzie; B Smith, J Goodhue, R Crotty, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith; K Tu'inukuafe, C Taylor, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, L Squire, A Savea, K Read (capt).

Replacements: D Coles, O Tu'ungafasi, N Laulala, S Barrett, M Todd; TJ Perenara, R Mo'unga, A Lienert-Brown.

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