Tuesday 22 October 2019

Lineout security ensures Toner and Best remain totems

Setting the Toner: The performance of Devin Toner in the line-out was one of several areas on which the foundation for Ireland’s victory was laid. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Setting the Toner: The performance of Devin Toner in the line-out was one of several areas on which the foundation for Ireland’s victory was laid. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

No one has played more games for Ireland under Joe Schmidt than Devin Toner.

As well as his remarkable durability, it is testament to the security the 6' 11" second-row gives to his team out of touch that the coach returns to him so often. In recent times, his place has not been as assured and when Ireland were going for the Grand Slam in Twickenham last March, Toner had to be content with a place on the bench.

Now, he looks like a certain starter after coming on against Argentina and settling down an under-pressure set-piece and guiding a near-perfect ship against New Zealand.

Likewise, the win was a good day for captain Rory Best whose set-piece work was exemplary. The skipper came in for criticism in these pages last week after a below-par performance against the Pumas, but he seemed determined to silence the doubters.

The hooker was far more involved in open play and, while he lacked his customary control at a couple of junctures, his accuracy out of touch and strong scrummage repaid the faith shown in him by the coach who looks set to stick with him until next year's World Cup when he will be 37.

Peter O'Mahony completes the lineout brains trust and one of the few concerns for Schmidt when he reflects on a momentous win will be the way the security of possession was lost in the final quarter when that trio left the field.

New Zealand are renowned for the competitiveness of their defensive lineout and, with lock Scott Barrett on in the back-row, they hunted the ball and put pressure on. With Iain Henderson calling, twice, Seán Cronin's throw was picked off at times when Ireland were looking to go for the jugular and close the game out.

The loss of possession invited the world's most potent team to attack and Ireland had to play much of the closing phases without the ball.

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With Jordi Murphy on for O'Mahony, Henderson had fewer options and the desperate All Blacks were taking more chances as their window of opportunity narrowed.

After two went astray, Henderson called a third on himself and Cronin delivered, helping ease the pressure in those frantic closing stages.

Given Ireland's reputation for "suffocating" opponents with possession as the All Blacks described it, opponents are going to target them at source as much as possible.

Schmidt and forwards coach Simon Easterby will be working hard to stay ahead of the game with the pressure likely to come on strong from England on the opening day of next year's Six Nations.


Although it has many moving parts and Ireland are facing aggressive pressure, the hooker invariably takes flak for lineout issues. Cronin will ship some criticism, but his Leinster performances have been excellent.

He would make the case that had he had Toner and O'Mahony to aim for he'd have been on the money.

The case could be made for having Tadhg Beirne on the bench and the Kildare native is likely to come into the team for this week's meeting against the United States.

The last 20 minutes is certainly food for thought, but the first hour essentially inked Best and Toner in as World Cup starters based on the security of their lineout ball.

Ensuring it stays secure when they go off is the next challenge.

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