Monday 9 December 2019

Toner desperate to keep reaching for new heights

Leinster may be beating whatever is put in front of them right now but big Meath man Toner isn’t getting ahead of himself

Devin Toner hopes Leinster can continue on their winning ways against Glasgow. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Devin Toner hopes Leinster can continue on their winning ways against Glasgow. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Leinster Rugby will walk out at the RDS Arena on Sunday at 12.59pm with a four-match winning streak in the Champions Cup.

Not since the 2004/05 season has four wins from the opening four games been achieved by Leinster, and they went on to go through the whole pool unbeaten that season.

With a three successive victories in the inter-pros also under their belts, lock Devin Toner is enjoying the positive vibes.

"Of course. That positivity is there for all to see. There is a great energy about the place in UCD, we've played in front of three massive gates at Thomond and twice at the RDS.

"We're scoring tries. There is plenty to get excited about. But…" There had to be a but…

"Wasn't that the year we lost against Leicester in Lansdowne Road in the quarter-finals?" Indeed it was.

Leinster captain Jack McGrath speaks to his team following the Guinness PRO14 Round 13 match between Leinster and Ulster at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster captain Jack McGrath speaks to his team following the Guinness PRO14 Round 13 match between Leinster and Ulster at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Toner didn't make his debut until the season after but with 209 Leinster caps now to his name he knows that it can all come tumbling down very quickly.

"Look at last year and the positivity that followed us into those last few months of the season but ultimately we came up short.

"Don't get me wrong, we are all looking forward to the game on Sunday but it is a very dangerous game to get too carried away and for us the focus will always remain on the next game. It's a cliché but it has to be the way you build your week.

"Every game has to have that same level of focus because if not you will get caught out. For us we have to keep that focus because we want to top our Conference in the Guinness PRO14 and we want to top Pool 3 in the Champions Cup.

Devin Toner wins a lineout for Leinster. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Devin Toner wins a lineout for Leinster. Photo: SPORTSFILE

"But that doesn't come about by thinking about what might come in two weeks' time or what might happen in May. Glasgow have caused us enough trouble down through the years and that's it for us."

What is it about the men from Scotstoun?

"They have quality throughout the park. They've a similar problem to us in many ways in that they are littered with internationals.

"That is brilliant on the one hand in that you want that level of quality at your club but come Autumn internationals or the Six Nations, it can have a huge bearing on your season.

"But Glasgow seem to have the depth to cover that so regardless of when you play them, there is no good time.

"They will always be strong. They have also reacted really well to Gregor Townsend leaving to become Scotland head coach.

"Usually there is maybe a bedding-in period for a new coach but Dave Rennie has hit the ground running, the players have responded in kind and there has been no let-up.

"Their only loss of the season was over Christmas in the PRO14 away to Edinburgh and even at that they only lost by a point.

"OK, Europe hasn't gone as well as they'd have liked but all those qualities that I mentioned won't just abandon them on Sunday. We have had two great games against them so far this season and I've no doubt Sunday will be the same."

The outcome though could go a long way to deciding Leinster's next step in Europe?

"It could but again if you focus too much on that you forget about what you have to do to get to that point. We have definitely learned from experience like last season that every point counts.

"That Castres game that we drew, maybe if we had our time again we would have played it differently and pushed on for a winning score but look, we can't control that now.

"All we can control is the next 80 minutes and that's hopefully a performance that we can be proud of. We can worry about next steps then."

As a veteran of 13 campaigns he has stood toe to toe with them all, so what has he made of the new kids on the Leinster lock block?

"Massively talented players. The big difference I suppose from when I was coming into Leinster is their development. Whether they are coming from the youths system or the schools system, they have been already in an environment where their S&C and their nutrition and their all-round rugby skill-set has been under the microscope.

"So they come in here ready to go to work. The likes of Ross Molony and James Ryan and even the latest lock Oisín Dowling, who is only in year one of the Academy, they are all physically imposing men yet are only out of school a maximum of four years in Ross's case."

And what of the old kid on the block?

"Scott (Fardy) has been really good. He's experienced top-level rugby with Australia, played in a World Cup final, has played in Super Rugby, in Japan.

"It's not just the young lads, we are all learning from him. It's the same with all of the lads coming in like Jamison (Gibson-Park) before and James (Lowe) as well this season, or Triggsy (Hayden Triggs) when he was here.

"Those guys and what they have experienced elsewhere really benefits the group here and add to the culture and to be fair they have all settled in really well."

Also settling in really well is the latest addition to the Toner household, baby son Max who is now nearly four months old.

"He's doing great thankfully, as is Mary. A whole new world for us both but so far so good."

Having been born in October he didn't make his Dad's 200th Leinster cap in September against Cardiff in the RDS but he did make the South Africa game in the Guinness Series at the Aviva Stadium.

"Yeah, hopefully he'll get to see a few more games over the next few years with Leinster and Ireland."

And a few good times?

"Hopefully. We are working really hard as a group to make sure we put ourselves in as good a position as possible. There is a collective at play too. Thirty-seven players stepped up massively over the Christmas period. Senior players, Academy players.

"Everyone did their bit and ultimately the 23 that get the chance this Sunday know that they are representing so much more than just themselves.

"The 23 selected for any given game are representing the wider group and the massive support base that we have.

"It's a responsibility but it's one that we are really enjoying at the moment and as long as we are enjoying our rugby and coming into work every day in a good place, you can't ask for much more than that."

Subscribe to The Left Wing,'s Rugby podcast, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.

Listen and subscribe to The Left Wing on iTunes and Soundcloud

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: The problem with the Champions Cup, the Stephen Larkham effect and trouble in Welsh rugby

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport