Devin Toner determined to make most of 'massive' opportunity
Devin Toner is not a football fan, so Wembley Way never featured in his dreams.
A bad performance on the hallowed turf tomorrow against Romania could mean the big Meathman’s World Cup turns into a nightmare.
The stakes are high for the tournament’s tallest man who found himself in the uncomfortable situation of watching Iain Henderson’s barnstorming display last weekend from the stands.
Almost ever-present under Joe Schmidt, the Leinster lock is now faced with losing out to the squad’s form player in the big games to come.
Yet, today, he fronted up to the media to acknowledge he’s under pressure and speak about the challenge that awaits.
“It's absolutely massive,” he said.
“I was obviously disappointed not to be involved last week, but it just reinforces the fact that everyone has to perform in every game and that we take every game as a single.
“It's a huge opportunity for me personally and hopefully I get it done.”
Toner can appreciate a strong performance and acknowledged that Henderson’s ball-carrying masterclass against the Canadians was impressive last weekend.
“100%, you can see the competition in the squad for places now. There's really quality lads that aren't being involved and it just reinforces the fact that we've got a lot of strength in depth. Hendy is playing brilliantly well, so I've got to front up this week,” he accepted
“There's no point in changing how I prepare for games or how I train, to be honest, because that's worked well for me over the last couple of years. I'm just going to continue what I'm doing.”
However, Schmidt praised Toner’s ball-carrying work at the team announcement on Friday and the player himself conceded that he wants to improve his work there.
“Any time you get a bit of disappointment, you look back at past games and see what you need to improve, or why you weren't getting picked. I have a pretty good idea now that I haven't been getting on the ball a lot in the last couple of games, and mainly a couple of my defensive stats weren't great,” he said.
“So I think they were the two main reasons. You do look back at what you need to improve and obviously Hendy is a fantastic ball carrier. If I can emulate him, it will be good, but I don't know.”
However, defence coach Les Kiss doesn’t want the big man to deviate from his strengths and urged him to play his own game at Wembley.
“I wouldn’t say he has to counter what Hendy did, but from his own perspective he was disappointed with his performance,” the Australian said.
“But he’s a good pro, and he played 20-odd games straight for us before that.
“And he did play a lot of good rugby for us.
“Just little things like getting sharp off the line with his footwork but also managing his height, as a tall guy the tighter you get you stay high and you don’t get good technique.
“It’s working on elements of managing the tall beanstalk that he is.
“That type of focus in the last couple of weeks is what he’s been putting his work into.
“And it will also transfer into the other side of the game when he carries the ball – if you get caught high a bit you can compromise the kind of ball you want to deliver.
“So he’s certainly put his mind on the job and he’s hoping to rectify those things.
“We’d expect to see a bit of a change there.
“One of his key strengths is his lineout, and we’re very aware of what Romania did to France in that area.
“So him and Donnacha have been put in charge of making sure we can secure the type of ball we want there.
“So we’ll see those strengths come through from Dev as well.”
Toner slipped off some tackles against England in the final warm-up game and he has been working hard to rectify the issues.
“It's just about getting the reps in and getting off the line, actually making the tackles,” he explained. “I think you saw in that England game that I slipped off Marler when he went through, so it's just getting the bite in the shoulder and getting your feet underneath you.”
However, he will draw strength from calling the lineout in Paul O’Connell’s absence tomorrow. Romania did a job on France last Wednesday, so combination of variation and speed of execution will do the trick this time according to the specialist.
“It’s a bit of both, because they always might change up when you get out to the field, so you’ve got to adapt as the game goes,” he said.
“They are mainly trying to get two pods up and Mihai Macovei is trying to get up in the air as much as possible.
“So we obviously had a look at that and we’ve a fair idea of where we’re going to go and what we’re going to call.”