Saturday 7 December 2019

'That message definitely wasn't relayed to Devin' - Questions raised on Schmidt's explanation for Toner omission

Devin Toner (left) with Joe Schmidt (right). Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Devin Toner (left) with Joe Schmidt (right). Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Tony Considine

Luke Fitzgerald has questioned Joe Schmidt’s suggestion that veteran Leinster lock Devin Toner was omitted from the Irish World Cup squad due to fears that the player was likely to be cited.

The explanation was first revealed in the former Ireland coach’s book, Ordinary Joe, which was released last week.

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Toner had made accidental shoulder contact with Wales' Rob Evans during the 22-17 win in the warm-up fixture the day before the squad was to be submitted to World Rugby and in one passage, Schmidt describes the thought process behind the decision to go with the recently qualified and twice-capped Munster player Jean Kleyn instead.

"We hadn’t noticed the incident at the time, but we reviewed the incident and it didn't look good," Schmidt wrote.

"After Scott Barrett’s red card and suspension over a shoulder charge in the Rugby Championship, we fretted that Dev would incur a similar sanction. We had been warned by Alain Rolland, in his presentation to us, that any shoulder-to-head contact was likely to have a starting entry point of a six-week suspension.

"It was a difficult call, but we decided to go with Tadhg Beirne, who can play both second-row and back row, and Jean Kleyn, the only specialist tighthead-scrummaging second-row in the squad."

As it transpired, there was no citing for Toner and Kleyn's only appearances came with a start against Russia and a substitute appearance versus Samoa. Fitzgerald, who played for Schmidt at both club and international level, was a vocal critic of the decision at the time and speaking on The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast in association with Aldi, he doubted his former coach's explanation.

"I didn't think that sounded right and that message definitely wasn’t relayed to Devin," he said. "It sounded weird, to be honest. You bend the narrative bends towards whatever story you’re trying to tell and that was obviously something people were asking about.

"They might have considered it in the decision-making process but I'm pretty sure that was not related (to the final call).

"It's pretty much done at this stage and I think Devin didn’t miss out on much from what I can see. Everyone moves on. But I didn't agree with that."

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