Thursday 26 April 2018

Devin Toner keen to take on Paul O'Connell challenge

Devin Toner and Paul O'Connell will square off again in Saturday's Pro 12 clash
Devin Toner and Paul O'Connell will square off again in Saturday's Pro 12 clash
Conor George

Conor George

PAUL O'CONNELL is the barometer by which all second-rows are judged and must judge themselves.

Surviving against the three-time Lions tourist is a big achievement, holding your own is better than most can hope for and bettering him ... well not too many can boast of that after doing battle with one of Irish rugby's truly iconic figures.

Devin Toner was generous in his praise of O'Connell yesterday – "he's one of the best in the world" – but is not so awed that he is not relishing the prospect of going up against the Munster talisman on Saturday.

Toner isn't immune to the excitement of the challenge – if he's selected by Leinster coach Matt O'Connor.

"I am looking forward to the game," said Toner. "If Paul plays, it will be a great challenge. Hopefully, I'll get picked as well.


"I love playing against him because going up against the best in the world is always good for your career."

Few players garner the respect and admiration O'Connell clearly elicits from his adversaries. Toner has four inches and nearly seven years on the soon-to-be 34-year-old O'Connell but the respect and regard are obvious.

"His experience is massive. That's a huge factor in his play. He is also excellent on 'D' (defence). Paul is a great reader of the opposition line-out. He's great at getting up and stealing or disrupting ball," said Toner

The battle that will ensue between the line-out jumpers on Saturday is far too complex to be governed solely by height. If that were the case, Leinster would win every ball thrown to the 6ft10in Toner.

"I do have a couple of inches on most people. But it's about the throw as well. It's about the lift. It is all about everything," explained Toner.

"It's all about the different line-outs. So, if we decide to throw it to the back and Paul's marking the back, there is a good chance he might get it.

"It's not all about height. It has to do with experience, about being able to read the line-out, being able to see what we do, what moves we use.

"One of the things that's so good about Paul is what he does to read the game and read the line-out. Going up against that is always a challenge."

The annual first meeting between Munster and Leinster is invariably the precursor to their opening Heineken Cup games. That's again the case this season, with Leinster facing a tough trip to Ospreys the following week.

With that in mind, both teams will be fielding as near to full-strength teams as they can. Leinster absorbed four of their returning internationals last weekend, with the formidable Sean O'Brien expected to make his season's debut this weekend.

"It was great to have those players back last weekend," added Toner. "We were particularly delighted to have Brian (O'Driscoll) back last week. We do look up to him when he plays. He played awesomely. He brings a huge amount to the squad."

The challenge for Leinster this weekend according to Toner is for the forwards to provide a platform for those outside them to shine.

The emphasis will be on securing quality ball from their set-piece and at the breakdown. Leinster's reputation for playing attractive and compelling rugby behind the scrum in recent years has been facilitated by the intense work of a well-drilled pack.

"We need a good performance first of all. After that we have spoken a lot about providing a platform. We haven't provided a good platform for the backs. We did alright against Cardiff. We'll work on it more this week," added Toner.

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