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Thursday 27 June 2019

Totem Toner needed

Leinster 27 Benetton 27

Leinster’s Conor O’Brien in action against Benetton during the PRO14 match at the RDS Arena
Leinster’s Conor O’Brien in action against Benetton during the PRO14 match at the RDS Arena

Ulster showed Leinster they will need all their weapons to fire the shots to take out Toulouse in the Champions Cup semi-final on Sunday week before they can even contemplate going back-to-back in Europe.

In a time of superior power athletes, like Iain Henderson and James Ryan, there is still an altar of reverence reserved for the old-school operators.

In fact, Leinster will go nowhere fast unless they can gather first-class, first-phase possession against the French club.

The good news is that Leo Cullen is confident lineout lighthouse Devin Toner will be ready to resume against Glasgow Warriors in the penultimate round of the PRO14 League at the RDS next Saturday.

The last time the Moynalvey man pulled on his blue boots was against Wasps for the sixth round of the Pool on January 20th.

Toner aggravated his ankle against England on February 2nd to such an extent that surgery was required.

The estimation was for a two-month rehabilitation, putting Toner up against the clock for the matches that matter most.

"It is a big week for Dev," accepted Cullen.

"He got through all last week. The physios and rehab guys have been working really hard with him, so when he does come back, he's in the best possible shape."

The problem there is that Toner is the closest thing Leinster have to Jamie Heaslip in that he rarely, if ever, sees the medics.

The fact Toner does not have a history of recovery from injury means there is no research available on how long it will take him to get back to his best.

It is said the big men take longer to reach peak match fitness condition and Toner is the biggest of Leinster's big men.

He won't have three or four matches to get up to full speed.

Fast-moving

Ex-second row Cullen will quickly know whether Leinster can rely on Toner against the fast-moving Toulouse.

"Dev is such a consistent performer. It is not only just his job," noted Cullen.

"He makes other people look good by how he wins the ball, where he wins it.

"For Leinster, a lot of the attacks get launched from a lineout or even from a restart, from other work he does.

"He is a smart player, been around the block, has a ton of experience," admitted the coach.

"He is going to be important for us, we hope, over the course of this run-in of, again we hope, some big games."

The same can be said about Robbie Henshaw, in how Leinster will close down Toulouse's dazzling midfield maestros.

The Athlone man has to start by showing the physicality and experience from top-end international rugby to provide security for Leinster against Glasgow on his expected return.

For all of the talent at Leinster, Benetton showed up a distinct need for brute force on the gain line on Saturday evening.

Every time Leinster threatened to mount a comeback and even grab a victory in the last quarter, the Italians had the ball-carrying and ball-retaining ability to eventually draw a game they could well have won.

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