Monday 20 November 2017

Toner: Special things set to happen

Devin enthused by the emerging young talent in Leinster's ranks

Devin Toner
Devin Toner
Leinster's Cian Kelleher who will start on the wing tonight against The Scarlets

The working life of Devin Toner came full circle last Sunday when the lock forward followed the World Cup quarter-final with the world-away isolation against Treviso in the PRO12 League.

"You just have to get on with it," he stated. "That is the nature of professional sport. You win some. You lose some, I suppose."

The playing demands of Leinster appear to be somewhat different to those from Ireland too.

"When you come back in, you've got so many new plays and new calls to get, it is easy to get your head around it," he said.

While the 'Tom Cats' were away at the World Cup, the Leinster kittens had to play.


There was an external fear that Leinster would fall into the same trap they did during the 2015 Six Nations when the points lost could never be recovered on the PRO12 run-in.

Instead, Leinster took 14 points from five games ahead of five from Treviso to leave them snugly placed in fourth, heading into a crack at leaders The Scarlets this evening.

"The lads did really well during the World Cup," said Toner.

"To get three wins from five and a losing bonus point is very good from a relatively young team.

"I think that experience will stand to a lot of them in the next couple of weeks."

The move of Toner's mentor Leo Cullen from player to coach and the retirement of Paul O'Connell from international rugby leaves Toner as the next-in line to become the general of the lineout.

"Yes, it's something that you evolve into, it's not something that you change."

It is his responsibility to show the way for locks on the lookout for promotion.

"Hopefully, the younger lads will look up to me," he said.

"I've got more of a senior role in Leinster over the past couple of years.

"Obviously, when we were at the World Cup, some of the lads did really well.

"Ross Molony is really coming into his own and he's a really good player.

"Being able to call lineouts like he did was really good. He's turning into a really good player."

Overall, coach Cullen has shed the playing image of a work-rate second row to embrace the thrill of the off-load.

"I might become like a (Leone) Nakarawa, you never know!" chanced Toner. "Everyone wants to play an attractive style of rugby, everyone wants to get over the gain line.

"The offloads, they're not at the front of our mind. We're not practising that, at the moment.

"We're practising our plays, our running lines, so if it comes, it comes. If it doesn't, we'll just truck it up. As a forward, you want to get over the gain-line first and foremost.

"If you can get your hands free, that's great, but we're not specifically targeting that. It's just you play it as it comes."

The long list of internationals tugging at back three jerseys is led by captain Isa Nacewa, looking immaculate after two seasons out of the game.

Rob Kearney, Zane Kirchner, Luke Fitzgerald, Dave Kearney and Fergus McFadden are proven performers at the highest levels of the game.

"We're focused on what we're focused on and we don't care about what's going on anywhere else to be honest," imparted Toner.


"We have to focus on ourselves and if we can get our back three into the game, just look at the players we have in our squad.

"There's loads of talent coming through the academy," he said, in the week Garry Ringrose, 20, will line out for the first time at outside centre and Cian Kelleher, 21, will start for the first time on the wing.

"If we can get the ball out wide and into their hands, I think special things can happen."

There can be a thin argument made for suggesting Leinster were better off without their front-line internationals.

The simple fact is their new style was forged in the British & Irish Cup over the previous two seasons.

It is the small army of Irelanders who will have to make the quick read from the more direct, power plays of national boss Joe Schmidt to the wider, more varied ball-in-hand attack of Leinster.

Toner is into his second week of learning a new way to play that is similar enough to how Schmidt worked Leinster.

"It's a really enjoyable one to be honest," shared the Meath man. "Everyone's getting back into the swing of things. Training is short and sharp.

"We know exactly how long we're going out onto the field for and what exactly we're going to be doing in training."

The swift transfer from international to club rugby and the fast-approaching Champions Cup might tempt the less experienced to take a peek around the corner.

"We've got such an important block of games coming up now.

"Our focus is firmly on Scarlets, at the moment," he said.

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