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toner in shape to lead the line

LINE-OUT expert Devin Toner likes to collaborate with Leo Cullen at Leinster; Paul O'Connell at Ireland.

The experiences at club and for country have benefitted the Moynalvey man well enough that he is now seen as Ireland's other second row beside O'Connell. That ranks Toner ahead of Munster's Donnacha Ryan, Ulster's Dan Tuohy and Leinster's Mike McCarthy. For now. Things have a way of changing. And quickly too.


It was just one season ago that Toner was grappling with his poor body height into the ruck, his physicality on the carry and his overall presence.

The decision of Leinster to put Toner front and centre for the final pre-Munster press briefing was a nod to his new-found confidence in the role of senior team leader at a club where his captain Cullen will become the forwards coach from this summer.

That will be the signal for the 6'10" second row to move out of Cullen's embrace and out on his own as a stand-alone operator, a true lineout leader in his own right.

Toner and O'Connell spent the length of the Six Nations getting to know each other. "I suppose it is a double-edged sword. He knows me better too," he said. "I've seen how he works. I've learned a lot off of him about the little things (that make a difference) because he's a world-class player".

Would it not be better to let Cullen draw up the tactical plan for this one? "Yes and no. When we sit down and devise a plan, we obviously have to work on our attack and defence. I know a bit about Paulie and how he works".

The Six Nations took a great deal of concentration and consistency from Toner. It could have left a mental scar, in terms of what he has left for Munster.

"I feel rejuvenated. This is the first year I played in all the Six Nations games. It is good to get back to all the lads and get back to what you know," he said.

"You know every year the Munster-Leinster derby is going to be massive, is going to be hugely physical, hugely intense. It just focuses you. It is great to get the lads back in and get back to your own systems. It is perfect to have these two games two weeks in a row".

Of course, there was another reason to put Toner in front of the cameras yesterday. Shine a light on the line-out and remove it from the scrum where Leinster could have problems.

Mike Ross is the only tight-head guaranteed to play with Martin Moore struggling and Tadhg Furlong out. At loose-head Cian Healy (ankle) and Jack McGrath (shoulder) are struggling for fitness, bringing Michael Bent into the equation.

"We need to have a fit 23, 24 blokes going to Toulon, that's certainly in the back of our minds, understanding how important it is this week and how big an occasion it is," said coach Matt O'Connor. "We've just got to try to manage the bodies in this period."


O'Connor knows how difficult that will be when Munster come to town: "They want to get into is physically. They want to make it impossible for us to play at them.

"Now the challenge for us is to make sure we are accurate enough, we control the ball and we are disciplined enough and we deliver on all the things we want to deliver on.

"Now, you can't get bullied. You can't lose the impact. You can't lose the collisions, because if you do, they will grow and get better and better the longer it goes."