Monday 16 December 2019

Donnacha still feels part of Ireland's lineout legacy

'Indispensible' second-row Toner is one of Schmidt's great towers of strength

Donnacha Ryan in action for Racing 92
Donnacha Ryan in action for Racing 92

Devin Toner could be portrayed as the long arm of the law in the middle of Ireland's lineout.

The tallest tree is nothing without the roots it begins with, however long ago.

The Moynalvey lock started out under the wing of Leo Cullen at Leinster and Paul O'Connell at Ireland.

He shared time with Donnacha Ryan as part of the Ireland set-up from which O'Connell's legacy lives on.

"The Grand Slam of 2009 paved a way for a lot of guys with their professionalism and their attitude," said Ryan.

"Bloody hell, I know the Irish lads are still using the same calling structure at lineouts that Paulie brought in years ago."

A quick check with Toner revealed this to be true with a Meathman's flavour slowly stirred into it.

The Racing 92 second-row Ryan has intimate knowledge of the Irish lineout and takes consolation from that fact it remains largely untouched.


"I get massive satisfaction that I have played a part in the development of the players," he said.

The Nenagh man even shared the story of meeting former Ireland number eight Donal Spring on a flight from Paris.

He alluded to the legacy of the game, each generation building on the knowledge of the one before it.

The cult of the coach in rugby is a relatively recent phenomenon, spawned by the advent of the professional era.

"He (Spring) would have influenced his attitude on a younger player," said Ryan.

"There is no textbook to be a professional rugby player for a player playing at the highest level.

"You just say, 'that's a guy that I can relate to'," he added.

Toner found that influence in Cullen, O'Connell and Ryan.

He will not pass on that particular torch, the lineout, for a few years yet.

He is too central to what Ireland do to apply pressure.

The true worth of Toner's impact was felt when the role was left to Iain Henderson in November.

"The bedrock of the Irish team at the moment is that you're in a system and you're there to make the guy beside you look better.

"I look at James Ryan now and I think 'wow, what a player!'

"James has got a massive amount of power at the moment because he's got youthful, explosive.

"While he's got it, it's great that he's making full use of it as well.

"Eventually, you get to your 30s and you kind of lose the power a bit and you're having to box clever and use your brain.

"There's a strategy game you've got to play out as well.

"That's the difficult part of doing the calling system.

"It is that we're playing chess one minute, the next you're going into a car crash.

"Then, you've got to compartmentalise massively and that just comes with experience."

These days, it is not as much the originality of lineouts, more the on-feet thinking involved in knowing what will work and when to work it when the men in white are lining up.

"The most difficult thing with lineouts is trying to be original," said Ryan

"A lot of teams are copying everybody.

"It's very difficult to be original all the time and the challenge is to be creative."

The athleticism of Peter O'Mahony has often been held up as the main difference as a rangy, light-framed jumper who can be shot into the air like a bullet from a gun.

"We're very lucky to have him. For me, they're more lucky to have Devin," said the Munster man.

"I saw an interview where Devin said he had a particular set of skills which I couldn't stop laughing at.

"He knew exactly what he was saying even though he was being funny.

"He's probably the number one lock in Ireland because of what he's talking about, which is basically Joe knows how important getting the lineout is," he added.

"I'm not telling tales, those strike-plays off lineouts, the tries for Jacob Stockdale, these aren't flukes.

"If you can't get the ball, then he has an issue."

That makes Toner indispensible.

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