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Toner sets his target on 'talisman' Hayes

LEINSTER second row Devin Toner has to make a move soon - not out of the club but into the international team, or time will simply pass him by.

WITH Quinn Roux unfit and club captain Leo Cullen nursing an elbow injury, lock Toner is expected to retain his position in the middle of the pack for the opening weekend of the Heineken Cup at home to unheralded Exeter Chiefs.

It is the champions Leinster versus the first-time competitors. It should be a case of four or five points. But, the looks of unfashionable Exeter can be deceiving. So can their personnel.

Leinster scrum-half Eoin Reddan was a contemporary of Exeter captain Tom Hayes when he was at Munster. The younger brother of John 'The Bull' is the spearhead and captain of the Premiership club and a player not short of international standard.

If Toner retains his position in the middle of the Leinster pack, he is expected to come up against Hayes, the forgotten man of Irish rugby.

"He's their talisman. He's their pack leader. He plays nearly every game," said Toner.

"He is their go-to guy. He is a good lineout caller. He's got great feet and good hands and a great hand-off. He is an all-round second row."

The Baxter brothers are at the core of Exeter, a family club. Rob, the coach, and Richard, the number eight, are two hard-working sons of a farmer, and on the verge of taking Europe by storm.

All they have to do is beat Leinster in the reigning champion's own back yard in front of a packed-out RDS. It isn't such a far-fetched notion.

Tortuous

The Chiefs are smack bang in the middle of what must have seemed like a tortuous five-game stretch against last season's top three clubs in the Premiership, the Heineken Cup champions Leinster and French giants Clermont-Auvergne.

There were those who forecasted the demise of their season before Christmas appeared on the horizon. Instead, they have just shredded Harlequins, and Saracens before them, in the league to stand on the precipice of the top four in England.

"Isn't this what you want to be doing, playing for a successful club and in big games throughout the year?" asked Richard Baxter, the player.

The 34-year-old should know. He has played 411 times for Exeter since his debut in 1997.

"To play in the Heineken Cup will be the pinnacle of my career, as it would be for any player in the English game, and to be able to play in those matches, whoever is picked, will be fantastic."

The impression is clear - underestimate the unfashionable Chiefs and 'The Bull Calf' Hayes at your peril.


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