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Toner out to stand tall and nail place

Leo Cullen has revealed in his newly released diary 'A Captain's Story: The Winning of the Heineken Cup' that, at one point last season, he feared new coach Joe Schmidt saw Nathan Hines and Devin Toner as his first choice second row.

Once Cullen had overcome the physical and mental tests that threatened to derail his season, he was returned to partner Hines in the engine room to the exclusion of Toner.



COMPETITION

Now, Hines has left and Toner wants to nail down his place in a difficult competition with more experienced new signings Damian Browne and Steven Sykes.

"At the start of the season, I did look at it as one of the biggest seasons for me personally, obviously with Nathan Hines gone," said Toner.

"But then you have quality players coming in like Steven Sykes and Damian Browne. Leo is still there. But I did look at it like a massive season for me."

There has been a distinct improvement in the effectiveness of what Toner is doing, not just at the lineout, but in his driving play, contact impact and ruck technique.



PHYSICALITY

"I've been trying to work on getting on the ball and trying to up my physicality. I did a good bit of work in the gym during the pre-season and I've been focusing on my diet a lot more.

"In the contact area, I'm trying to get lower and I think there's been some improvement there," said the 25-year-old.

"The referees are looking on lads going off their feet at rucks. So the difficulty for me is trying to get low but also trying to stay on my feet. I've been doing different drills with Greg (Feek) and Jono (Gibbes), different drills with bags, trying to ruck over in practice.

"Everyone's got to do it and it's about technique more than anything. No matter how tall or small you are, you need to stay on your feet and paint a positive picture for the ref."

It would seem he is doing just that for his coach.


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