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Cullen hands it to Devin Toner as he signs new deal

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Devin Toner

Devin Toner

Devin Toner

LEO CULLEN kept the faith when others wavered about Devin Toner.

That was back when Leinster's decorated captain knew his time inside the whitewash was limited and when Nathan Hines and Brad Thorn were signed to cover up for the shortcomings of home-grown options with Championship mettle.

"If you just walk around the streets of Ireland there's not that many 6' 11" guys. Let's face it," said Cullen.

"The club has invested a huge amount of time and energy into the guy as well.

"That's the beauty of what we are trying to do here and you want guys to stay here for that reason."

This is a case of the IRFU's limitation on foreign players benefiting Leinster and Ireland.

When Toner was learning the game, he had Cullen, Hines and Thorn to turn to for advice and example.

PERSIST

"There's some guys we have to persist with, unfortunately, because it's not like we can go to the market place the whole time and bring in whoever.

"Leinster signed foreign second rows during Dev's time and I'm sure he would have picked up little bits all the time from a Hinesy and a Brad Thorn. He's a smart guy.

"They were really good influences around the place and Dev' has learned.

"I worked very closely with him for so long. It's really good for us that he has signed," said the forwards coach.

Toner has signed a two-year contract to remain a central part of Matt O'Connor's plans at Leinster and those of Joe Schmidt for Ireland.

"Dev is such a key part in what we do here," added Cullen.

"He has grown very much into himself as a character."

The Meathman's development came dropping slowly.

The 28 year-old made a significant move at the start of the 2010-2011 season, playing 22 times, 17 from the first whistle.

"Sometimes it takes a bit longer for guys to mature into their bodies in the front five. He has a lot of experience of playing games now, Dev.

"He is a starter for Ireland, although there are a few guys who have been out injured and I don't know how that is going to pan out in the Six Nations.

"He has established himself at that high level and it is a great announcement for Leinster that he wants to stay here. I'm sure he would have had interest from elsewhere but it is a statement that he wants to stay."

On a broader scale, Leinster have been hit with the removal of a host of internationals as Ireland's pre-Christmas camp kicks into gear, leaving all the provinces short of preparation time.

"I honestly don't know what the logic is there," he said. "I know there has always been an Irish camp around this time of year, so we have always missed players for one of the games maybe.

"We have an extra provincial game this time of year. For us it's just a really big league game, regardless of what players we have involved."

Cullen claims uncertainty over who will be made available for the Munster match on Friday in a move that devalues the importance of the inter-provincials in the eyes of the general public.

"It's not really for me to say what happens at national level," he said.

"I'm concerned about preparing a team to go down and play in Thomond Park and we know it is a very difficult place to go to.

"They will challenge you physically down there for that - maybe it's over-used a bit - physical battle.

"We have a couple of guys here but we have 20 that aren't, although we have had to do that a few times this year.

"We are up to, I think, 46 players used this year and it's not even Christmas yet. That's just the nature of the competition."


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