Sunday 4 December 2016

Toner: We must seize our chance at redemption

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Published 18/12/2015 | 02:30

Devin Toner believes Leinster must concentrate on little details with a six-day turnaround. Picture: Sportsfile
Devin Toner believes Leinster must concentrate on little details with a six-day turnaround. Picture: Sportsfile

The intriguing battle that is the December back-to-back fixtures has caught even the most informed fans and pundits out over the years. Trying to predict home and away form wasn't an option and Leinster are not alone in their Jekyll and Hyde performances.

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More often that not, a win was followed by a loss. Or a loss was followed by a win. Take Harlequins last year as a case in point, or indeed Northampton the year before. One all in the back to backs and how Leinster would take a one all now.

"It's an odd one alright" explains Leinster lock Devin Toner. "You've got a team that have figured you out coming to play you less than seven days later and it's a challenge. Northampton a few seasons back was the most alarming one where there was a huge swing in terms of scoreline and performance.

"It's a huge challenge physically and mentally and this season is no different, because we feel that a lot of what we did in the Stade Felix Mayol was good and hit the mark. But that last 10pc or whatever you want to call it wasn't and we suffered the consequences."

Disrupt

So what are the challenges that he faces as he looks to disrupt Toulon this week?

"The turnaround. We have six days to get our recovery right. You have to make sure that you get every small detail right."

You get the sense that Toner feels that a lot of what went wrong last Sunday is very much within the control of Leinster this weekend.

"100pc," he says. "We can actually take a lot of confidence from our performance. When you break it down we did a lot of things well against a very good Toulon team. But then again look at the breakdown and how we controlled that area. Our discipline. Massive area."

It's difficult enough at the best of times to beat the reigning champions for the last three seasons but to try to do it with 14 men for 55 minutes is asking a lot.

"Look at their two tries - from two lineout mauls that we conceded off penalties. I'm not dancing around the issue here either, I was a culprit and was one of those to get a yellow card. I think in the whole of the season to date we have picked up three yellows so to get three in one game, is something we have to look at.

"But again I am looking at that and saying, we can control that. We can do that better. It's within our control."

What isn't within their control is the 5ft 9ins dynamo that is Steffon Armitage. He may be small in height for a modern day back-row but you try moving him!

"He was very good again last weekend. We discussed it during the week and how accurate we had to be when dealing with him and yet he still created issues for us."

So how do you address an issue like Armitage? 5ft 9ins and over 100 kilos? That's not easily moved.

"You could argue that he is the best seven in world rugby. There aren't many around. What he does so well is that he gets down low very early and very quickly so the challenge for us is probably to get there into that space even sooner than he does," says Toner.

"But look, if we just focus on Armitage we'll suffer because they also have (Mamuka) Gorgodze and they have (Samu) Manoa! Two giants who were also a nuisance.

"The breakdown is just something that they do very well and it's on us to try to negate that this weekend. We have to get there quicker. We have to support the ball carrier that bit quicker and not provide any space for the Toulon back row to attack."

The results may not have gone their way in Europe this season but for a pack that was under severe scrutiny after the Bath loss, does the Meath native feel that they have something to prove?

"We win and lose as a team but it is no secret that we as a pack did a lot of soul searching after Bath and we managed to get a lot of things right against Ulster and then again against Toulon. But again there are areas to work on this weekend.

"Again I go back to discipline and our lineout functioned quite well in the Stade Mayol but I think we ran three or four lineouts with players in the sin-bin. And then off the other four lineouts we only managed to play off two.

"Primary possession was a bit messy and if we are to kick on we have to ensure that we are providing full lineout options and then that we are providing clean ball and a good platform to our backs.

"They can only do so much with sloppy ball but if we can deliver and give them good ball, we have the talent to punish Toulon."

On Saturday afternoon Toner will line up alongside 'Daddy' - or Mike McCarthy to you and me!

The 6ft 4ins lock makes his 300th senior club appearance at the Aviva on Saturday and Toner is effusive in his praise for his 34-year-old partner.

"300 caps in the modern game with the pace of the game and how big the players are and how physical the game now is. . . it's a remarkable figure.

"What that says to you is that he is a player that is rarely injured, and a huge part of that is looking after yourself the right way off the pitch and being a model pro - and that's what he is around the place.

Character

"He is a leader. Don't get me wrong he's a brilliant character and a great addition to any dressing room, but above all else he is a warrior on that pitch and he is someone that you would want on your side."

Team-mates for the last three seasons in blue there have also been moments in the green of Ireland.

"I would have known him before he joined us. I played against him while he was with Connacht. He was a nuisance. The level of aggression that he brings. The physicality. How quickly he reacts out of the line.

"I then trained with him in Ireland camp and played with him for Ireland so I knew what we were getting. He has delivered in spades for us and it's a superb achievement for him and his family on Saturday.

"Hopefully we can deliver for him and indeed for Rhys Ruddock who celebrates his 100th cap and make sure that those lads really have something to celebrate."

Irish Independent

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