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Toner ready to hit heights

You could call him 'tall timber'. You could call him a giant in a land of humans. You could call him whatever you want. Devin Toner doesn't care because he will make his international debut for Ireland on Saturday in what Brian O'Driscoll forecast as "the proudest day of his life".

"I am over the moon. I can't wait for the game. It can't come quick enough," said Toner.

The 24-year-old, 6'10" Meathman, tipping the scales at just under 19 stones, will handle the responsibility of calling the lineouts as well as the prospect of making his debut on the same afternoon.

"The challenge is to get the lineout right. I would like to see myself as a bit of a lineout man," he said, in a comment that drew smiles on the faces of his captain O'Driscoll and his coach Declan Kidney.

Of course, it deteriorated into the area of greatest concern in the flat-as-a-pancake defeat to South Africa. Samoa won't be able to call on a Victor Matfield for the purpose of exploiting Ireland's sagging confidence there.

"I am not going to leave any stone unturned in trying to stabilise it. We will work on the technicalities to make sure everyone is keyed into what we are doing," he said.

It speaks volumes for the Castleknock College graduate Toner's natural leadership and his intelligence that he walks into an experienced international side to take over the rhythm and strategy at the lineout.

It probably isn't a coincidence that he spent a year studying economics and statistics at University College Dublin. He makes quick calculations and, usually, finds the right answers.

Toner made all the right moves in all the right places, moving from Leinster Schools and Ireland Schools through to the Age-Grade international set-up, into the Leinster Sub-Academy, on to a Development contract until former coach Michael Cheika promoted him after one year in the Academy.

Once there, he came in under the influence of former lineout king Malcolm O'Kelly and the physical and tactical leader Leo Cullen. He still has a lot to learn, in bending low to hit those rucks from the right trajectory and presenting the best way of using his weight in the scrum.

Coach Declan Kidney has been impressed by the distinct upward learning curve shown by Toner in the wake of the retirement of O'Kelly. He has coped with the new challenge presented by summer signings Ed O'Donoghue and Argentina import Mariano Galarza.

"His improvement in the breakdown area is substantially up on last year. That is what has given him the right to wear the jersey," said Kidney.

Just ask Toner. It can't come quick enough.

IRELAND (v Samoa): L Fitzgerald; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), P Wallace, A Trimble; R O'Gara, P Stringer; T Court, S Cronin, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, D Toner, D Leamy, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.


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