Monday 23 October 2017

Toner eager to grasp his chance with both hands and drive Blues forward

Devin Toner soared highest to claim Damien Varley's throw at a crucial stage of Leinster's win over Munster.
Devin Toner soared highest to claim Damien Varley's throw at a crucial stage of Leinster's win over Munster.

Ruadhri O'Connor

NOBODY wants to be a one-trick pony, but there is nothing wrong with being a specialist.

When Devin Toner soared highest to claim Damien Varley's throw at a crucial stage of Leinster's win over Munster, he displayed characteristics that no other Irish second-row can match. His height, weight and leap mean he can rule the air for his province, and for his country, if given this chance.

He is always quick to emphasise the other elements in his game. His ball carrying, rucking and defence have improved and, at 26, he has time on his side. But it is his 6ft 11ins, 19-stone frame and physical capabilities that mark him out as special.

However, the Meath man has not always received the support or trust his potential deserves from his coaches.

Certainly, he was undermined by Brad Thorn's arrival last season which consigned him to a 22-minute cameo in the Heineken Cup final, while he missed out on Ireland's summer tour when other second-rows were injured.

With the New Zealander back in Japan and unlikely to return, he has a chance to establish a place in the engine room this season. Second-row has been pinpointed as an area of relative weakness for the European champions, with Leo Cullen and Toner backed up by Damian Browne and youngsters Tom Denton, Quinn Roux, Mark Flanagan and Ben Marshall.

On Saturday, Toner is expected to retain his place and secure Leinster's ball while his carrying game continues to improve. So far, he has played his part in the province's success, but now he wants to drive it.

"I suppose there is a little bit of responsibility on me to play as well as I can every week," he said. "I think you have in the back of your mind that you taste the success and you need the drive to keep winning. We said before we went out that we'll try to build a legacy, which is what we want, so if we are going to do that we have to win every week. We can't have the performances that we had against Connacht."

They may have gotten that defeat at the Sportsground out of their system with the win at the weekend, but one feels it will linger in the background for some time as a reminder of what happens when they switch off.

"We weren't good enough at all against Connacht; we can all see that by the scoreline," he said.

"We added an edge to ourselves coming into training last week and I think we did well to get the win under our belt.

"I think we have to step it up and keep that edge for this week, not just sit around and say 'ah, we got a good win last week.' You cannot take anything for granted coming into this week."

On Saturday, the Exeter Chiefs arrive with a renowned off-loading game and an old-school, physical pack.

When he came off the bench against Montpellier last season, Toner got a taste of playing against the team in their first European game and he expects the English to give everything against the champions.

"It's pretty similar," he said. "They are going to have it in their minds that they'll throw everything at us. Obviously they are fresh to the tournament and they are riding high after beating Harlequins comfortably last week."

Irish Independent

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