Tuesday 13 November 2018

Toner feeling more 'confident' in Blues' expansive game-plan

Devin Toner: An old dog has learned new tricks. Photo: Sportsfile
Devin Toner: An old dog has learned new tricks. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Before Tadhg Furlong lit up the RDS with his dancing feet last Friday, there was a moment during Leinster's win over Edinburgh recently that summed up the confidence that Leinster have in their players, regardless of the number on their back.

Just before half-time, Leinster won their own lineout just outside the Edinburgh '22 and executed a slick set-piece play that involved Devin Toner playing a sumptuous reverse offload to Luke McGrath, which allowed James Lowe to score in the corner.

It was a stunning try and one that encapsulated the skill level that each of Leinster's front-line forwards now possesses.

Toner would be the first to admit that he hasn't always been the most skilful lock, yet the standards of second-rows in Leinster right now, let alone the country, has sky-rocketed so much that even an old dog has had to learn new tricks.

"It's huge, having skilful forwards," Leo Cullen maintains.

"If you want to play a skilful game, you need your forwards to be able to play as well.

"The work that Stuart (Lancaster) does, even John Fogarty as well, on the catch-pass, execution of the basics is hugely important. It's something that we have gone very hard after over the last couple of pre-seasons. Hopefully that work pays off.

"It's important that the forwards have that ability to be able to play a game the involves forwards having the ball."

Felipe Contepomi's stamp is slowly being seen on Leinster's power plays, and his little subtleties will develop their incisiveness even more.

For Toner, it's all about adapting to the demands of a modern lock and when he looks at James Ryan's sublime playmaking ability at just 22, the elder statesmen is keen to keep up with the young bucks.

"I think the last year or two, I've really come into my own a bit more," Toner maintains.

"You hear it all the time that second-rows get better as they get older, but for me it's happened in the last year or two or three that I've come into my own and started playing well.

"I can't put my finger on why it is, I haven't really been doing much different. It might be just experience, getting to know what does and doesn't work for me. What I do or don't do well. It's hard to put a finger on it.

"Because we do all of our shape, our moves, our stuff during the week, it's second nature to us now.

"We practise hands a lot, all of the forwards are getting on the ball a lot more in the last couple of years, you're confident when anyone gets on the ball.

"And when you're confident in the people around you, the more confidence you feel, the better you play. It's a huge thing with this team, this squad. The confidence in the other players."

Ryan continued to showcase his quality in the convincing win over Wasps and his powerful break and offload for McGrath in the lead-up to Lowe's sensational team try in the corner, reiterated Toner's point.

"Maybe goal-kicking," the 32-year-old smiles when asked what other strings Ryan can add to his bow.

"I'm not going to say he's the complete package. I'm not going to say that no. Everyone has stuff to work on. I'm sure he has in his own head. He has stuff written down, his goals and his aspirations. It's all personal.

"Imagine how good he will be when he's 30! No, he's an awesome player, he showed it again on Friday, he runs the best lines ever coming off 9 and he's able to break that first tackle.

"He's just always getting up and always looking for more work, and he has a big engine on him, he's got a good few 80s in a row under his belt and he's a real asset for us as well as a pack because he's really good at getting up and stealing ball as well.

"So I think when you have a pack that's able to get up and compete in the air and on opposition lineout, it's a real buzz."

On Sunday, Toulouse will provide Toner and Ryan with a different challenge to that of Wasps and it's one that the Meath native is relishing.

"They're a team I haven't played very often," Toner added. "I think I was on the bench, maybe, in 2011, but I don't think I got on.

"They kinda represented French rugby for me when I was young, when I was 16, 17, 18 and kinda looking up at French rugby, they were obviously the best of the best at the time.

"Obviously every French team is proud at home and they're going to want to come out and come at us, come at the champions, as every team is going to want to do."

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