Sunday 20 October 2019

Toner aims for total recall as he plots France's downfall

Devin Toner bemoaned Ireland's sloppy lineout ahainst Italy as they prepare to face France, the best functioning set-piece of round one. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Devin Toner bemoaned Ireland's sloppy lineout ahainst Italy as they prepare to face France, the best functioning set-piece of round one. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

It was the most memorable match of Devin Toner's international career and yet he remembers virtually nothing of it, save the barest glimpses of the gripping endgame.

The prompts poke him now in momentary, staccato bursts almost as if he is recalling that momentous occasion, when Ireland claimed the championship last March in Paris, for the first time.

"The pass - I didn't think it was a forward pass! So I thought it was a try and that we had lost. Then it got called back. Then I just remember the last kind of tackle on (Sebastien) Vahaamahina that held him up."

But, unlike some on the field, and those in the coaching box, who knew the final Pascal Papé pass had been propelled forward thanks to Dave Kearney's tackle, Toner was blissfully, and stressfully, unaware.

"Pretty much, I thought it was gone, then it went to the TMO. You're hoping for the best."

Even his relief was brief.

"Then we had the scrum which had a huge wheel and you're just waiting for a whistle," he says. "Then they picked and went and, well. . . the rest is history. But a lot of the rest of the game, I can't remember."

France return with vengeance in mind and have never lost since Lansdowne Road ceded its name to sponsors Aviva.

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Ireland lead the table after a round one series that exactly replicated the sequence of fixtures in 2011 when France, then defending champions, too, also led after the first weekend.

Indeed, France haven't lost in Dublin since 2003 and only twice in Six Nations matches have they lost their round two fixture; for their part, Ireland are on an eight-game winning streak; six of them here.

Toner is evolving too and must continue to do so; he bemoans Ireland's sloppy lineout last weekend as they prepare to face the best functioning set-piece of round one.

"Two overthrown lineouts, then we lost two and the first lineout of the game was a bit of a hames," he sighs.

France won 18 and lost just two on their own throw, Papé and Yoann Maestri winning four apiece while also nicking two of the Scots'.Winning ball is one thing, though, using it as a platform quite another.

At times, the canny Scots seemed more than adept at reading the French intentions once they had secured the pill.

The match mic clearly picked up both sets of forwards shouting "yes" and "no"; France aiming to launch a phased play but then, on hearing that the Scots had rumbled them, trying to divert to another plan.

Toner is an intelligent observer of how and when sides decide to opt for either planned first-phase plays or mauls at lineout time; in effect, it's a numbers game.

Defensively, too, it is important to know when to attack the ball in the air or whether to set one's stall out to defend the maul from the ground.

"You could go after it and if it works out then it's great, but if it doesn't. . ." He gulps guiltily.

"That happened to us when we played Australia two years ago," he confesses. "I went up in the middle and they got behind us and scored a try."

He hopes to have spotted French weaknesses this week before they spot Ireland's and will, one trusts, remember them during this particular renewal with the French.

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