Wednesday 12 December 2018

No more watching brief as Toner takes centre stage

Devin Toner. Photo: Sportsfile
Devin Toner. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

This one is different for Devin Toner who, along with Isa Nacewa, Cian Healy and Johnny Sexton, is on the cusp of a fourth European title and a place in the record books alongside Frederic Michalak and Cedric Heymans.

Yet, unlike his three team-mates who started the 2009, 2011 and 2012 finals, Toner was a replacement in those games; unused in 2009, seeing the final two minutes of action against Northampton in 2011 and a further 20 minutes in 2012.

Leo Cullen, now his coach, had a different second-row partner in all three showpieces: Malcolm O'Kelly against Leicester, Nathan Hines two years later and Brad Thorn for the win over Ulster.

affording Tomorrow, Cullen is expected to name Toner alongside James Ryan, affording him his first start in a final. "It is a lot different this year because it is a different group and I have played a bigger role," the 6ft 10ins Meathman said.

"I have started a lot of the games coming into it so a win at the weekend would be huge for me, personally. It is a new squad and team and so many new players are coming through so it feels completely different.

"Those past years Leo was in charge of the lineout and everything. He obviously is still a little bit in charge of it now as coach but a lot of the senior players will take ownership of it for that area. As one of the older players I would feel a little responsible."

Standing opposite him on Saturday will be a man he knows well. Toner and Donnacha Ryan played together for Ireland 18 times and their battle will be key to proceedings in Bilbao.

"Donnacha would know how I run a lineout and I suppose I know how he runs a lineout as well," Toner said. "It's a bit of a double-edged sword. Do I bluff him or do I not bluff him?

"He does a lot of work on video, spends a lot of time looking over past lineouts... he has a lot of years of experience doing that sort of stuff. I know he has done it on me, on our lineout for years."

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