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Wednesday 19 September 2018

Toner: I can handle it

Leinster man is ready to step in against Samoa if O'Connell misses the cut

CLIMBING HIGH: Devin Toner in Rabo Pro12 action for Leinster against Connacht at the RDS last week.
CLIMBING HIGH: Devin Toner in Rabo Pro12 action for Leinster against Connacht at the RDS last week.

Second row contenders Devin Toner and Dan Tuohy shouldn't feel too bad about the prospect of Paul O'Connell not making the Tuesday "cut-off" point for the first international of the season against Samoa next Saturday.

It might just leave an opening for one of them to be given the go-ahead to put their own stamp on the mechanics of Ireland's lineout.

"I don't know about that," said Toner.

"Obviously, I want to play as much as I can. I'm not sure if Paulie is going to play or not, I just hope I am playing."

There is a new regime in place, a new brand of rugby, an air of the unexpected and a second chance for players to make a first impression.

"There are going to be a whole lot of opportunities all around the pitch and people are getting older and there are younger lads coming in," said Toner.

"So I suppose that's the nature of the game, it's always going to happen. Paulie has had an absolutely fantastic career.

"He's still playing great when he does play and obviously it's only a little calf niggle that he has, so I'm sure he's going to be involved."

Yes, but when? Samoa seems a stretch for O'Connell's calf when Australia and New Zealand are lurking around the corner.

It could be a case of now or never for 27-year-old Toner, who has won plaudits from his club coach Matt O'Connor and gathered the experience and the profile to crack the international scene on a regular basis.

"I've only had – what is it? – two Six Nations caps, so I've kind of been in and out, obviously because of the quality second rows in Ireland.

"I suppose my goal is to get involved, get more caps and establish myself more.

"I've a fair bit of experience now with Leinster, over 130 caps with them, so I'm calling all the lineouts and stuff. I'm pretty happy with my experience, that I'm able to handle it".

Toner's identity as a leader at Leinster has come slowly dropping. He is there now, especially at the lineout where he has worked closely with Leo Cullen.

 

INVOLVED

"Obviously my area of speciality is the lineout, so I'm trying to get more involved in that, trying to stamp down my ideas there, what we need to do and where we need to call it.

"That's where I'm trying to stamp it down. It's kind of been me, Paulie, a couple of others, maybe Dan. We've just been kind of going through what calls we want to go with for this coming series."

Joe Schmidt's move from provincial to national coach could come as a blessing for some Leinster players; as a curse to others.

They certainly hold an advantage over others in instantly dialling into what Schmidt wants because of their familiarity with the new Ireland coach.

What does Schmidt bring? "I think every single person you would ask would say his attention to detail. Everything he does, you have to do it right.

"You need to know where you're going to be for every phase. That's the way he kind of works. He's just really good on your skills as well, getting the pass quality right, running onto the pass, not catching it behind you. He's really good at drilling that into you."

The relationship between coach and player is defined by trust. Who can Schmidt invest that in immediately? Who will have to earn it?

Toner has not, as yet, shown himself to be a first-class international lock. There is the pressure to prove himself all over again. And at a higher level of the game.

"I'm fairly confident that Joe knows what I'm about. He's played me before in big games," reflected Toner.

 

SIMILAR

"Because I've had him for so long, a lot of the plays and things he does are quite similar, so it's good for the Leinster lads because we have an insight into what he does."

The Meath man is sitting under no illusion about his international career: "I don't know, it's been kind of sporadic," he conceded. "Obviously my debut was against Samoa three years ago. I'm more confident in my playing ability. That first game, I was pretty nervous.

"But I think I've progressed in how I see the game, I suppose. My body height was always a massive area of my game.

"I've worked on getting down lower. My scrummaging is better. My mauling is better".

Being better can only be good. Is it good enough for Toner and for Schmidt? Tuesday is O'Connell's cut-off day. And Thursday is S-Day. S-for-selection.

We will know more on Tuesday, everything on Thursday.

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