Thursday 14 December 2017

Devin Toner: 'There's no luck involved - it's all down to work'

O'Connell and Toner want to get inside hooker Baldwin's head

Devin Toner
Devin Toner
Devin Toner, Ireland, in action against George Ford, England. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v England. Aviva Stadium

IT was the 23rd minute. Ireland had applied all the pressure with not enough reward - they led 6-3 - and England's George Ford had just gone to the corner from a kickable penalty instead of the posts in a statement of intent.

There was something of Northampton Saints against Leinster in the Heineken Cup last season about this tactic and Dylan Hartley was the man with the ball in his hands.

The hooker went to James Haskell at the tail of the lineout and the long arms of Devin Toner reached to the skies to take away England's best attacking position of the match.

Toner wasn't there by chance.

"I don't want to go into too many specifics because I don't want to sit here and tell you my lineout strategy," he said.


"We have different specific strategies for all over the pitch. I suppose one of the main things we want to do is block off the tail.

"The best thing to do is put me at the tail and I'm very glad that they threw it to the tail because the plan was to go up.

"A lot of the time, a lot of the teams want to stay down at the tail and just want to smash it.

"For this particular match we decided to go up and it was fortuitous that I was there."

There was nothing fortuitous about it. It was down to hours of painstaking analysis.

It was the earliest, maybe the most important momentum changer, next to Robbie Henshaw's try, in that it stifled England from implementing their strategy.

"I think it was quite important," relayed Toner. "When you find yourself on your own line you are kind of under the kosh and there is a lot of pressure on you. If you get that ball back there is a big sense of relief. You hear the crowd and you get the big cheer on behind you.

"Yeah, it is a massive lift for the squad if someone gets a turnover, or gets a poach or a steal around that area.

"It is massive for confidence."

Of course, the lineout is Toner's area of expertise alongside Paul O'Connell.

They were able to outfox England. They will be looking to outwit Wales and their darts man Scott Baldwin, in ahead of British & Irish Lion Richard Hibbard.

"Hopefully, we can stick it on him," said the lock.

Ireland have taken the decision to contest when least expected and there is a psychological ploy in rising to the challenge out of touch.

"We've done pretty well in our defensive set-ups, so far, robbed a few lineouts. A hooker has it in the back of his head 'they're going to be going up, they're going to be challenging hard'.

"It's always going to be on their minds. It is a lot of pressure."

O'Connell and Toner sing off the same hymn sheet when it comes to their tunnel vision for what is needed right now.

"We're not focusing on what's gone or what's going to come. It is literally just one game at a time. I suppose, if we look at it now, it's a semi-final and final.

"If we win the two games, we win the Championship and the Grand Slam. It's the way it has fallen.

"It could still happen a different way," added Toner.

This is where Wales come in. They have rebounded from a sickening defeat to England to post victories away to Scotland and France.

The winning of the lineout chess match up against a formidable operator in Alun Wyn Jones will not be enough. The scrum has become a matter of contention.

The internationally retired Adam Jones was a master manipulator and English referee Wayne Barnes is a man not for turning once his mind is made.

"A huge thing in the scrum is making the right impression and painting the right pictures.

"If we're staying up and they're always going down, it is a positive picture.

"Barnes loves to reward the dominant team," imparted Toner.

"If he sees a team going forward, he's very much with the dominant side."

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