Toner's trust in youth
BETWEEN the Kearneys and the Ruddocks there is undoubtedly a certain validity to any 'Brothers In Arms' comparisons which may surface from time to time.
The family ties which bind don't end there, though, within the Leinster setup and last weekend's victory over the Cardiff Blues marked a special occasion for the Toner and Flanagan families when Devin and Mark (respectively) locked down for the first time in a competitive fixture.
In doing so, they became the second set of cousins from within the Leinster camp when the short-term deal acquired by Cillian Willis meant an albeit brief renewal with his cousin, Brian O'Driscoll, prior to the latter's departure to the World Cup.
The twin towers are bound by Devin's mother, Anne, and Mark's father, Joe, who are brother and sister. As Toner reflected on the resonance of the fixture for the team and his family, a smile fell across his face. When you know somebody so well for so long in life, you undoubtedly want them to succeed. "He did really well, didn't he?" the Ireland second row reflected on his younger cousin's performance. "I mean, for a young guy to come in with only a few caps to his name and face a pack containing the likes of Sam Warburton, Xavier Rush and Maama Molitika, and hold his own ... I mean, that's no mean feat.
"Mark (pictured on opposite page) has set a standard for himself now and he knows what he has to do. I knew that he'd be able for it and he slotted in well and worked hard. That's all you can ask for really. It just sums up the attitude of the younger players who are stepping up into the senior squad of late. They're highly motivated and they want to take their chances because who knows when opportunities will come around again.
"It's refreshing and even though I suppose I'm one of the older players in the squad, it does invigorate you. It invigorates us all." In a cautionary tone, he added with a grin: "But I don't want to be saying too many good things about him. We're competing for the same position, you know!"
Eighty-three appearances have crept up on the Moynalvey man over the last five-and-a-half years and his form this year has been at a consistent level meaning he has featured in 16 games and even chipped in with his first try in Leinster colours.
When asked to reflect on the player he was then and compare himself to the current crop of Academy graduates who are fighting for places, he says that the difference is significant. "Mentally, the guys in the Academy nowadays are light years ahead of where I was. Starting off I was nervous the whole time! I mean, calling lineouts in a hugely experienced pack was fairly daunting at times. Calling lineouts is fairly pressurised anyway because you'd be terrified at times that you'd make the wrong call. I played a lot of 'A' games against the other interpro sides, while the British & Irish Cup was only really starting up so those experiences helped me. You can see with the likes of Andrew Conway, Jordi (Murphy) and Mark stepping up last weekend that they've benefited from some good experience in the B&I Cup and the league games they've had." By maintaining the province's run of good form in the Welsh capital last weekend, Leinster parked that block in the PRO12 calendar exactly where they wanted with a nine-point cushion before the hiatus which kicks in for five weeks (including rounds five and six of the Heineken Cup this week and next). Toner believes that last weekend will serve as the sound preparation for Sunday afternoon's trip to Glasgow, a venue which has proven to be a difficult one for Leinster teams to emerge victorious from in recent years.
"Firhill is one of the toughest places to go in Europe. I don't know what it is but we've come out on the wrong side of some tight games there over the years and when you look at their form, Glasgow are a team on the up and Richie Gray and Ali Kellock are two excellent players.
"We can't afford to bring anything less than 100 per cent. With qualification for the quarter-finals and the incentive to try and get a home tie it is huge for the club.
"Glasgow will be hurting from our win in the RDS back in November and we certainly haven't forgotten our league defeat to them back in September. A lot has been said about not having lost in the last 14 games. We're not motivated by those kinds of things but we know that our destiny is in our hands just now. When it comes to match day, it's simply about winning, full stop."