Wednesday 17 July 2019

Devin Toner targeting further glory with Leinster and Ireland ahead of 2019 World Cup

26 May 2018; Devin Toner of Leinster following their victory in the Guinness PRO14 Final between Leinster and Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
26 May 2018; Devin Toner of Leinster following their victory in the Guinness PRO14 Final between Leinster and Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

“I think I’m in nine of them," Devin Toner smiles, as he allows himself a cursory glance at the new mural that now takes pride of place in Leinster's media room at UCD.

The artwork is a new addition in recent weeks and it depicts a picture of every one of the 12 trophies that Leinster have won in the professional era.

It's a fair achievement for Toner to be included in so much of the province's success down through the years, and still only 32, as he begins his 14th season, he has every intention of ensuring that he is part of many more.

Last year, Toner enjoyed an outstanding season, during which he didn't always get the credit his ultra-consistent performances merited.

Yet, the Meath native has never been one for the limelight and he is happy for the younger locks, such as the all-action James Ryan, to continue to grab the headlines.

Considering how much of a late bloomer Toner was, he has certainly made up for lost time in the last few years.

The rate with which the Leinster Academy is producing top class talents means that young players are making the step up to the professional ranks far more seamlessly than Toner managed when he was the same age.

The last of a dying breed perhaps then?

"I think so, yeah, to be honest," Toner agrees.

"These days, there aren’t any project players any more. You can’t look at someone and say, 'We will give you three or four years to get you right.'

"As soon as they come out of school, they are ready to go. It’s mind-boggling how they do that. It's a testament to how well the schools are doing.

"They are starting weights when they are in fourth year. I didn’t even start weights until I left school, even a year after that."

Toner might not admit it now, but he will have his sights firmly set on playing at a second World Cup next year.

Barring injury, his towering 6ft 11in frame will very much be part of Joe Schmidt's plans, but Toner will be mindful that the competition for a place on the plane to Japan will be extremely tough.

The return of Tadhg Beirne to these shores as well as the expected return to form of Ultan Dillane should add to what will be an intriguing battle amongst a top quality group of Irish locks.

"It was one of the biggest questions that was put to me last year as well, about competition," Toner recalls.

"But I think it's the best for any squad, to be honest. There obviously is a huge amount (of competition) in Leinster and Ireland. There are always young lads coming through so yeah, I enjoy it.

"I feel great to be honest. I can’t wait to get going, looking forward to it. I am only 32, got a fair bit left in me.

"I said last year I lost a bit of weight and I’ve kept it off. I’m in and around 124-125 (kilos) and I feel good in myself. I feel good in the gym, feel like I’m getting around the place a bit better than I use to.

"I was at 132 at one stage and I was lumbering around the place. I feel better jumping in the lineout, feel better in myself."

This time last year, Toner made a conscious effort to get more involved in open play, and it showed as he carried more ball than he has done in recent years, while his rucking was at a typically high standard.

He has written similar objectives for the season ahead and if everything goes according to plan again, and come next September, he finds himself preparing for a World Cup with an equally positive mindset, he will be satisfied.

"It's hard to talk about how much it (last season) means but yeah, it was absolutely brilliant," Toner, who will return to action against the Scarlets on Saturday, adds.

"It was unbelievable. I think I only lost one game last year and that was the Connacht game. To come off a season like that, it was unbelievable, to be honest, yeah.

"You obviously reference back to what happened and everything and what we want emulate, but what we are talking about this year is we do want to get better.

"Obviously that Connacht game was an example of how we didn't perform well. We didn't perform well at a lot of stages last year, so we have to be better than that. You can see every other team is getting better as well.

"There is a target on all of our backs. That's just one of those things that we're going to have to live with."

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