Cullen says Toner can get better after signing new contract

Leo Cullen says he always believed Leinster's Devin Toner had what it took to make it at the top level. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Ruaidhri O'Connor

An example of good things coming to those who wait, Devin Toner yesterday confirmed his status as one of Ireland's blue-chip rugby players by signing a national contract that will run until 2017.

The Leinster second-row is an ever-present for the national team's last 16 internationals and one of only two players to have played in every one of Joe Schmidt's games in charge.

Now 28, he had to bide his time at the province before making the breakthrough as the likes of Brad Thorn and Nathan Hines blocked his path to the jersey, but Leo Cullen says he always believed the Meath man had what it took to make it eventually.

"If you just walk around the streets of Ireland there's not that many 6' 8" guys. Let's face it," Toner's former second-row partner said. "The club has invested a huge amount of time and energy into the guy. That's the beauty of what we are trying to do here and you want guys to stay here for that reason.

"Leinster signed foreign second-rows during Dev's time and he would have picked up little bits all the time from a Hinesy and a Brad Thorn. He's a smart guy. They were really good influences. I worked very closely with him for so long. It's really good for us that he has signed."

There were times when Toner himself must have doubted if he would make the breakthrough at his home province, but Cullen saw enough in his skill-set to keep believing in the 6ft 11ins lock.

And he reckons his charge can get better after receiving fresh backing from club and country.

"He is very skilful," he said. "Obviously his aerial skills. You can be tall and able to catch a ball in the lineout but from kick-offs is a different skill and it's a skill he is very good at. There are still parts of his game that Dev can get better at to drive him on to the next level again.

"That's the beauty of someone with those physical attributes. You can't teach that but you can teach Dev to get better at certain aspects of his game."

Meanwhile, Leinster look set to be without Toner and a number of Ireland starters for their St Stephen's Day clash away to Munster.

Cullen said they had yet to be told who will be rested, but said 20 of the squad were part of Ireland's two-day camp and were not training with the province yesterday.

"I'm concerned about preparing a team to go down and play in Thomond Park, a very difficult place to go to," he said.

"We have a couple of guys here but we have 20 that aren't, although we have had to do that a few times this year.

"It's the same for both teams though. It would be different if we were playing against a team completely unaffected."

One player almost certain to miss out is Kevin McLaughlin who has gone for scans on his shoulder injury.