Saturday 24 March 2018

'Let's build momentum'

Toner calls for more clinical Blues to gain head of steam going into home straight

"Keep it going."

Three words which, when pieced together, help form a composed yet determined statement of intent.

Ahead of the final few months of what has been an exhilarating campaign, the Leinster squad know more than anybody that the hard work starts now.

Words like impetus, ruthlessness and patience reinforce the message from within this week as the province gears up for the visit of the high-flying Ospreys to the RDS tonight.

Devin Toner knows that the challenge is not to forget what has gone on, but to learn from the bad, to tweak and refine the good and to face the new challenges which loom with intensity and purpose.

"Momentum is the big thing at this time of the year", the Meath man reflected this week.

"I mean, you can look at momentum in two ways. Firstly, we've put in a decent run of form ourselves over the last few months, but we know that we have to be more clinical when opportunities come our way because that's an area we have to tune up. "There's no doubt that your confidence grows with victories, but when you look at the calibre of the sides which we face over the next three weeks -- the Ospreys, Munster away in Limerick and then the Cardiff Blues in the Aviva Stadium -- any complacency will be punished. And we know that.

"The Ospreys are our first big challenge and they know what it takes to last the course and win over in Dublin; we know that from experience when they beat us in the Grand Final two seasons ago. They beat us heavily over there at the start of this season and that really hurt us and has motivated our lads since then. And, you know, with Wales winning the Grand Slam last weekend, momentum is going to be building for them too, isn't it?" he says. Toner has made 22 appearances to date, in what many regard as his most improved season since his debut in the 2005/06 campaign, but he won't allow himself to dwell on the past.

With Leo Cullen set to return from injury, Damian Browne powerfully consistent, his cousin Mark Flanagan continuing to make a positive impression and Brad Thorn in tow, the Moynalvey second row knows that competition for places is going to heat up.

"The big thing about this year is that everyone in the squad knows that their place isn't assured, which means that every time you pull on the jersey you have to work bloody hard to keep it.

"The 'A' team were in action last week, and nearly all of the non-playing players, including the guys who were on a day off with Ireland, were there watching -- cautiously as it turns out! Only kidding! But there's a serious point too in that the team is continuing to win and that breeds a level of confidence.

"When I look back at the early days of my career, those 'A' games were invaluable to my development, and now that there's a competition (B&I Cup), this means that players can test themselves at a higher level on a more consistent basis." His next provincial appearance will be his 90th in league and Cup competitions, with the speed of that landmark perhaps surprising some, but the two-times Heineken Cup winner still expresses the enthusiasm of a debutant.


"It's funny but I was only thinking about this point the other day. I've been really fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn off some outstanding second rows in my time with Leinster. Competing day in and day out with the likes of Leo's (Cullen) organisation and leadership, Mal's (O'Kelly) athleticism and consistency and Hinesy (Nathan Hines), who was such a hugely powerful and skilful athlete, can only help you become a better player.

"Trev Hogan also had one of the best attitudes -- especially in terms of his approach to training and gym work. Brad Thorn will have an important role to play for all of us. He seems like a sound guy with a really positive attitude.

"Then, training with Ireland, it's great to watch the likes of Donncha (O'Callaghan) and Paulie (O'Connell) up close; how he organises and inspires those around him. That experience is huge for a young player to learn from and I know how fortunate I have been."

After a break, it's all systems go.

"We're entering into the most important part of the season and if you're not ready and motivated for this then you're in the wrong game!"

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