Sport Rugby

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Toner ready to take giant step forward for Ireland

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

DEVIN TONER's height made him stand out of the crowd as a youngster, but the 27-year-old knows that, in many ways, it also held him back.

The 6'10" second-row could win his eighth cap against Samoa next Saturday, a week short of three years since he made his Ireland debut against the same opponents.

Despite establishing himself as a senior player at Leinster, the Meath man knows that he has had to work harder on his game than most because his greatest asset doubles up as his biggest weakness.

He remembers his nerves on the day he first pulled on a green jersey and when he is asked how he has changed since, Toner highlights his ability to manage his body shape around the park.

Body position is everything for a man who towers above everyone else on the pitch. He can soar highest in the line-out, but in the open field, centre of gravity is king.

That work has been combined with a conscious effort to adopt a greater leadership role within the Leinster and Ireland set-ups.

Asked how he feels about an international career that has yet to truly ignite, he said: "I don't know, it's been kind of sporadic.

"My debut was against Samoa three years ago and I've only had two Six Nations caps, so I've been in and out, because of the quality second-rows in Ireland. I've been happy enough. My goal is to get involved, get more caps and establish myself more.

"That first game, I was pretty nervous going into that one. But I think I've progressed in how I see the game. My height has always been a massive area of my game.

"I think I've gotten down lower, I think my scrummaging and mauling have gotten better.

"It's an advantage in the line-out, a disadvantage when you have to get down that low, but I think I've adapted well."

Last summer was an opportunity and Toner identified it immediately. With Paul O'Connell with the Lions and Donnacha Ryan rested, he went on the summer tour of the USA and Canada on a mission to establish himself as a leader in the set-up.

Les Kiss must have been impressed as he was one of only three players to play 160 minutes on tour, along with captain Peter O'Mahony and Fergus McFadden.

"Yeah, I think I'm ready," he said. "I've a fair bit of experience now with Leinster, over 130 caps with them, so I'm calling all the line-outs. I'm pretty happy with my experience, that I'm able to handle it. I've played a fair few big games.

"I'm fairly confident that Joe (Schmidt) knows what I'm about, he's played me before in big games. I'd rarely get nervous going into games any more whereas when I was young, I'd be getting nervous the whole time. I'd be getting butterflies."

Those games in June were Toner's first Irish starts since his debut against the Samoans, with his intervening four caps coming off the bench.

He knows he came into an Ireland set-up full of quality second-rows, but with the age-profile rising he is hoping to get the opportunity to shine.

"My area of speciality is the line-out so I'm trying to get more involved in that, trying to stamp down my ideas there," he added.

"There are going to be a whole lot of opportunities all around the pitch. Paulie has had a fantastic career, he's still playing great when he does play and it's only a little calf niggle that he has so I'm sure he's going to be involved.

"But if I get a chance to play, hopefully I'm going to take it."

Irish Independent

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