Monday 22 July 2019

I wasn't shocked by Schmidt's selection bombshell - Toner

Devin Toner has parked any thoughts of Lions selection. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Devin Toner has parked any thoughts of Lions selection. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Monday morning ahead of the Six Nations game that every Irishman wants to start, but why is Devin Toner suddenly getting the feeling that he won't be one of them?

Perhaps it's his rural upbringing, and the seeping smells from the countryside wafting into Carton House HQ, but as he sniffs the air, he senses gathering clouds.

His instinct is accurate. Soon, Joe Schmidt calls him to one side and delivers the devastating professional news: he is out, Iain Henderson is in.

He has learned to process these things better now; devastating professional news is not, after all, devastating personal news. And Toner has had his fill of that, for the time being.

And so he wasn't floored by the news - a relief to passers-by given his elaborate wing-span.

Instead, he absorbed the hit, as if it were the game itself, and moved on to the next challenge, doing his best to ensure Henderson was as well prepared as he could be.


History records that he was. Toner then emerged for the second half of the titanic tussle to make a typically committed cameo. Were his week shrouded in self-indulgence, rather than selflessness, he doubts this may have been possible.

"You kind of get a feeling on the Monday or Tuesday whether you are in or you aren't," says the 30-year-old, who returned to the Aviva on Saturday to help deliver Leinster a return to France for a second Champions Cup semi-final in three seasons.

"It is funny because I knew I had not played to my highest standards during the Six Nations, but the Wales game, just before England, had been one of my best.

"I had been talking to Joe about it and we had said it was one of my better ones, particularly defensively just getting stuck in there.

"He just said that he wanted to freshen things up, he wanted to give Iain Henderson a go and that I had a fair few miles on the clock. I never felt tired, you never think about things like that in a Six Nations.

"So you're disappointed but you can't afford to keep that in for too long.

"Every player kind of knows, so when you are told it doesn't come as a huge shock to you.

"It's a professional game, you are going to be disappointed but you just get over it. Just keep on trucking. That's what I always do. There are highs and lows. I didn't get picked but Ireland won the game and finished the Six Nations well."

Even were it physically possible to render himself inconspicuous, he would not for a second have contemplated donning a cloak of invisibility.

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"People try to downplay the team ethic," he stresses, "but once you know you are not involved, you try to get over that, your next job is to do what you can to help the team."

Schmidt's selection jolt may have fatally undermined Toner's dwindling Lions prospects, although out-smarting Joe Launchbury last weekend won't have done him much harm ahead of the April 19 announcement.

He will not be able to test himself against Alun-Wyn Jones - who is injured - when Leinster visit Ospreys this weekend, not that it really matters to him.

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"I genuinely haven't thought about it," says Toner; so many players are devoted to not thinking about the Lions, you'd wonder what is the point of touring at all…

"You want to play against the best players all the time," he adds.

Clermont have a stack of those; still chasing their Holy Grail, most of us have fond memories of an epic Bordeaux semi-final.

Toner thought it was four years ago; it was five. He guessed he came on for a few minutes; he didn't.

Time to create some fresh European memories.

"We won't base our progress on last Saturday but on the entire season," he adds, firmly.

Irish Independent

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