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Glasgow provide tall task for Toner

TALL timber they call them for the height they reach and the long levers they use like branches to catch balls falling from the sky.

These are the second-row forwards that bare closer resemblance to lighthouses than high-class professional athletes. You can add ‘taller’ to the requirements ‘bigger, stronger and faster’ which are often trotted out these days.

Recently, Leinster held a ‘Route 6’6” Open Day’ in order to unearth new possibilities in the constant search for players of 6’6” and above. Irish rugby is sadly lacking in this area.

In fact, there are 37 players registered for action in the Heineken Cup that scale 6’7” and taller.

Nine of them climb to 6’8”, with three listed taller again.

While Leinster lock Devin Toner is recorded as the tallest player in the competition at a sky-scraping 6’11”, Glasgow will bring the next two in a couple of rangy 6’9” ‘Warriors’, captain Alastair Kellock and Richie Gray.

It is this height advantage that makes Glasgow a troublesome foe at the lineout, more than anywhere else. The super-talented Gray, fitness permitting, is rightly seen as a shoo-in for one of the two starting spots for the British and Irish Lions in 2013.

The sky is literally the limit for the 22-year-old, who brings a unique set of skills to the table. He has a ground-devouring stride that makes him freakishly quick for such a large man, weighing in at 19 stones.

The question has to be: will Leinster coach Joe Schmidt give Toner the chance to pit his wits and size against the Glasgow pair? Both men starred for Scotland at the World Cup.

Toner has been a work-in-progress for Leinster, winning three caps for Ireland along the way. His height, such an advantage at the lineout, has been a handicap in other areas.

Getting his body at the right angle to clear players away at the ruck, maul effectively and avoid carrying the ball too upright in contact is a difficulty he has had to overcome.

Toner has shown improvements in carrying this season, and made a strong impact against Montpellier last Saturday with surprisingly sure handling. He must now measure himself against two of the best.


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