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First class officer Toner refusing to look beyond Italian job

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Ireland's Devin Toner arrives for squad training. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Ireland's Devin Toner arrives for squad training. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Ireland's Devin Toner arrives for squad training. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

IRELAND lock Devin Toner played the last 16 minutes of that disastrous defeat to Italy last season.

It was a time and place in his career he never wants to revisit: "Yeah, it wasn't great last year. No-one was really saying anything but I think we can use it as a bit of a spur on, no-one wants to feel like that again, to be honest."

Those were the last days of Declan Kidney's empire when consistency was as elusive as the Grand Slam he had schemed in 2009.

"But I think we're in a different place now," added Toner.

The Meath man is anyway. He has won 13 Ireland caps, six of them this season, all from the start. He has moved from bit-player to first-class officer material. And he is very comfortable with it.

Maybe it's because it has taken the 27 year-old Meath man longer than most to reach The Promised Land, mostly because he is longer than most.

To get that 6'10" long, lean frame into international working order has taken time and patience on the part of Toner and a spread of coaches. Maybe, that is why he chooses to embrace Italy in Ireland and refuse to consider France in Paris.

Time is precious for Toner: "I think it's just a personal thing you've got to do to shut it out.

"You hear it everywhere: there's two more games. There's two more games. But, it's not. It's one more game for us."

Take your eyes off the ball and, before you know it, an Italian will be passed Ireland's game-high tackler in Twickenham – he made 15 – and steaming towards an Irish try-line on Saturday that has been breached just once in three matches.

Toughest

"It was good getting a weekend off and rejuvenating because the England game was up there as one of the toughest games I have played. I was fairly wrecked after it," he said.

"But just going into this week we have good mindset of just needing to get a result in this game and then seeing what happens after that. We're not looking past it."

Ireland will surely look to drive Italy at the lineout and to launch their backline off a set-piece platform that can play it tight or wide. Variety is the spice to their life in this Six Nations.

The lineout was 100pc perfect against England: "It was quite good with the quality that they had with (Courtney) Lawes and (Joe) Launchbury.

"They're a quite tall lineout as well, so Paulie has done great with the calling systems and stuff. Pretty pleased with how the lineout has been going so far.

"Looking at last year it was an area that we needed to work on, so coming into this year, it was a big area that Plum (John Plumtree) wanted us to work on. The more you work on it the better you get in games, it kind of feeds into it."

The Italians should travel with respect, but without fear on the back of how they have improved in recent years.

"I can only speculate on what they're feeling, I think they're going to come knowing they have beaten us last year and that they do have a chance," he said.

"It's up to us in the first 10 or 20 minutes to put down a marker, to show that we've shown up."


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