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Toner willing to welcome Ryan competition with open arms

The unflappable second row took his bench role on the chin, but is ready to wrestle his place back starting against Italy this weekend.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IRELAND LOCK DEVIN Toner refuses to be fazed by losing his starting place to a man 10 years his junior.

21-year-old James Ryan made his Six Nations debut to excellent effect during Saturday’s win over France, but the veteran still had a role to play in the intense late stages.

For Toner, never a flappable character, missing out on jersey four or five didn’t inspire anger, just a bit of realignment.

“James Ryan’s a phenomenal talent, and he will be, in the far future,” jokes Toner, who is still keeping Ryan limited to a replacement’s role at Leinster.

“Obviously he’s a great player. I was disappointed, of course, but you change your mindset of what you need to do.

“It’s a different training week if you’re on the bench, you don’t get as many reps, so it’s more of a mental challenge, preparing yourself for coming on.

“Hopefully I’ve put my hands up for selection this week (against Italy), but we’ll see.”

Toner nods to the competition for lock slots with Connacht’s Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux left in the wake of Toner, Ryan and Iain Henderson on opening weekend. However, seeing Toner slide from the top of the pecking order is a recent phenomenon. And he’s not content to let it continue.

“I’ve had that taste of starting for the last little while, and when you lose it you miss it and you want more. It’s a factor, yeah.

Devin Toner Toner putting in the work in the gym today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s great for the team and I’m delighted for (Ryan). He had a hard time last year with (serious hamstring) injury and he’s come out this year and done brilliantly.”

Having been unable to cross the try-line against France, whatever combinations Joe Schmidt puts on the field against Italy must be licking their lips at the prospect of facing a side coming to Dublin on a six-day turnaround after a seven-try loss to England.

The party line, for provincial matches as well as the Six Nations, is that bonus points don’t come anywhere near a player’s consideration. However, if Joey Carbery gets his hands on the ball, his target for the 80 minutes ahead – indeed, any league format match – is clear.

“Each week we go out trying to get a bonus point, in the back of our mind,” says Carbery.

Joey Carbery Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Obviously trying to get four points from each game (is the primary goal), we’ll obviously be looking to do our best and hopefully the strategy plays out and we get a bonus point.”

The strategy and gameplan was not cleanly executed in the opener. So the elation of a win in France is easily tempered by the lengthy list of work-ons.

“They’re easy fixes if we go and do them properly,” says Peter O’Mahony with a touch of vexation.

“There are things we’ve shown we are capable of doing, but we have to go and do them.

“It’s very important that we do them for this week, for the challenge that is coming up.”

Sébastien Vahaamahina and Peter O’Mahony Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Close to the heart and mind of both O’Mahony and Toner, reviewing a scrappy – if statistically sound – line-out will provide a key area for improvement. Especially after England’s success in cutting Conor O’Shea’s team open with slick set-moves.

“(France) did a good job of getting in the air and disrupting,” says Toner.

“Our ball-winning was good, but we didn’t get much out of the mauls. (Sebastien) Vahaamahina, they use him for lifting and breaking the seams.

“It’s one of the things we pride ourselves on and have had a good foundation in the past and that’s one of the things for us to work on now.”

With Toner once again the central totemic presence.

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Sean Farrell

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