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Toner focus on perfection after demolition of Bath

When Devin Toner sat his considerable frame down in pre-season to hear the increasing demands of his Leinster coaching staff, the requests were pretty basic.

More physicality, better breakdown work and maximising his core strength were all top of the list.

But dizzying dummies in midfield? Antipodean, rugby league style around the back offloads?

They received barely a mention. However, that didn't stop Toner unleashing those unpredictable box of tricks in the white heat of Heineken Cup fare at Lansdowne Road last Saturday night against Bath.

After a rudimentary, if technically excellent, soaring take from Jonathan Sexton's penalty rebound off the posts to ultimately set up the opening try for Mike Ross, his role in the second was straight off Coogee beach.

Snaffling the ball near halfway in crowded traffic, Toner changed direction, sold an outrageous dummy that left David Atwood and Ryan Caldwell flailing, before off-loading a delivery that Brian O'Driscoll would have been proud off to find the over-lapping Rob Kearney.

Luke Fitzgerald ultimately ran in the score, but all the acclaim showered down on Toner's exquisite skills, highlighting the manner in which Joe Schmidt wants all his players to keep the ball alive, no matter what the number is on their jumper.

"I suppose it wasn't too bad," he said with a hint of self-deprecation. "It happened very quickly, so I wasn't exactly sure what happened. It's always nice to feature in a game, I suppose."

Such is Toner and Leinster's relentless quest for perfection, however, the towering Kilcock native dwelled on the flaws in the facile home victory over Bath.

"To put that amount of points on a team was brilliant, but in the dressing-room afterwards we were a little bit deflated because of the tries we let in," conceded Toner, spotlighting the 27 points gifted to one of the poorest of England's Premiership sides.

"It's been drilled into us that we have a lot of work done, but there's a lot more to do. We let ourselves down a bit I suppose."

Ahead of the province's festive double-header, scrum coach Greg Feek acknowledged that, despite the outwardly glowing perceptions of a squad topping both domestic and European league tables, inquisitive introspection must remain forbiddingly harsh.

"Totally," confirms Feek. "It's about getting through the pool stages in the Heineken Cup and also the league and guys wanting to put their hands up for positions.

"These are moments where they have to shine. That's 18 minutes if they come on (as replacements). You hear it all the time, but it does have a big impact when they come (on) and miss four tackles; that could be a decisive selection issue.

"There were too many good things not to talk about them in the first 60 minutes and we discussed them. There were a few individual things that were quite brilliant.

"But there were a few poor things in the last 20 minutes. For me, we went a bit high in tackles.

"They ended up getting an easy advantage line and that meant they were able to score two or three tries in the last 15 or 20 minutes. That is one aspect we want to address.

"There were seven or eight guys who came on and they were a little disappointed because they were on when it happened.

"Those guys want to come off the field feeling good about their performance."

Irish Independent