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Schmidt go-to man Toner feeling his age in mind but not in body


Devin Toner with his eight-week-old son Max after the victory over Fiji. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Devin Toner with his eight-week-old son Max after the victory over Fiji. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Devin Toner with his eight-week-old son Max after the victory over Fiji. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Devin Toner is in good form and why wouldn't he be? Slimmed down and feeling good, last Saturday he welcomed his son Max to the Aviva Stadium to show him what daddy does for a living.

Just eight weeks old, the little fella is unlikely to remember his first trip to the big house but it's one for the mantelpiece.

On the pitch, Toner did what he has done relentlessly throughout Joe Schmidt's time in charge. Play.

No-one has won more caps under the New Zealander than Toner, who has played in 45 of the 50 games under his charge, starting 41.

He is 31, young in second-row terms, and now that Jamie Heaslip has been ruled out of action for seven months with a troublesome back, he has the honour of being the most durable man in Irish rugby.

"I take a lot of confidence from that," he said of his consistent selection. "My injury profile stands to me as well, it shows that I do try to take care of myself."

Physically, Toner offers something different but on the pitch he offers consistency to Schmidt, who demands disciplinary and performance standards of his players.

As the senior lock - in a squad full of new youngsters - who has never been yellow-carded in international rugby, he is a shining example of how to get on the coach's good side like they were against Fiji last week.

"A lot of the younger lads are trying to get into that Joe way of thinking of doing everything right," he agreed. "Joe wants stability, he wants reassurance and doesn't want anyone making mistakes.

"I'd like to think from my demeanour I keep quite calm on the pitch as well. I need to be when calling lineouts, trying to think about the game-plan and moves, what we're going to do.

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"I wouldn't say I go for 0-60, I just get on with it."

Looking around at the likes of James Ryan, Ultan Dillane, Kieran Treadwell and Iain Henderson, Toner is feeling his age.

"I'm feeling a little bit older these days," he said with a smile. "You're always thinking about it.

"I'm 31 now, 32 next June and seeing these young lads coming up... James Ryan is 21 years old and he's hugely strong, hugely fast, but I think everyone thinks that.

"You have one bad game and you think you're done, one good game and you're top of the world.

"No, I say I feel old but in my body I don't. It's just around the place I feel older than all the rest of them. But I actually feel better than I did last year. I'd like to think I'm playing better, I've lost a fair bit of weight and I'm getting around the pitch a bit more.

"I feel better in my body than I did last year.

"It was a personal focus for me in pre-season to lose a good amount of weight. I went up to 131kg (20st 9lb) last year, but a lot of that was fat. I got rid of that and I'm down to 123kg (19st 5lb) now.

"It's a fair amount of weight to be carrying around."

As a survivor from the World Cup quarter-final loss to Argentina two years ago, Toner is one of those having flashbacks in the video analysis booth as he reviews the footage.

Not that he'll use it as motivation this week.

"We have moved on from there," he said. "We're looking back at clips and at different player profiles and we do have clips in from that game and I'm seeing them and getting these nightmares!

"But we've moved on as well. We've had the All Blacks win, and the South Africa one, so we've both moved on."

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