DEVIN TONER MADE six appearances the season Leinster kicked off a trophy-winning run that was to become a habit. The second row made his Blues debut at 19 but it took him until 2012/13 [when he was 25] to finally hold down a starting role for big games.
This evening Toner will feature in his eighth final with Leinster [kick-off against Glasgow Warriors at 18:15]. A firmament in the Dublin skyline, as he claims lineouts at the RDS, the lock is now a regular in the Ireland squad. He has started all eight games under Joe Schmidt and the previous two Tests, when Les Kiss kept her steady in North America.
Toner and Leo Cullen started last season’s Grand Final win over Ulster. He will be joined by Mike McCarthy for the visit of Glasgow Warriors and is determined to end a transitional season on a high. Rob Kearney declared, midweek, that Leinster’s season would be a failure if they finished without a trophy. Captain Jamie Heaslip did not agree but Toner is siding with the fullback.
He told TheScore.ie: “You gauge success by the trophies you win, don’t you? If we don’t win a cup, we would not look back on this season as successful. That’s what we are there for; that’s the standards we set for ourselves.”
While going against his captain on Leinster’s title-winning ambitions, Toner mirrors Heaslip’s comments about claiming the Pro12 for the wider squad. “[Forwards coach] Jono Gibbes talked with us this week about the work the other lads have put in to get us to the final. Talented players like Jordi Murphy and Dominic Ryan have been crucial for us this season yet have missed out on the squad. More than anything, we are desperate to win for them.”
All that hard work, Toner admits, was in danger of slipping away as Leinster trailed 9-0 to Ulster in the semi final. “The odd doubt did creep in,” he said. “Still, we know that we have the skills an experience to win games as long as we are within a try heading into the final minutes. We know what we are capable of in the final 20, 30 minutes and we back our talent to get over the line when it counts.” He added:
It helps, too, when you have Sean O’Brien coming off the bench for you.”
Leinster coach Matt O’Connor posed the question, on Tuesday, if Warriors have a world-class player on their books. However, Toner commented, “They are a great team and have guys that play for each other a lot. They have a lot of momentum going into this game.”
Most of Leinster’s momentum has been on an emotional wave as the club prepares farewells to Cullen, Gibbes, Greg Feek and Brian O’Driscoll. Toner said, “Brian is similar to Leo in many ways. They don’t talk up all the time but when they do, you listen. Ever since I have come into the squad, lads like Leo, Brian and Shane Jennings have driven standards.
“We have thrived on that and it is up to the lads that will be left to ensure we can send them off as winners.”
Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, Z Kirchner; J Gopperth, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, M McCarthy; R Ruddock, S Jennings, J Heaslip (c).
Replacements: A Dundon, J McGrath, M Moore, L Cullen, S O’Brien, I Boss, I Madigan, D Fanning.
Glasgow Warriors: P Murchie; S Maitland, A Dunbar, P Horne, T Seymour; F Russell, C Cusiter; G Reid, D Hall, J Welsh; J Gray, A Kellock (c); R Harley, C Fusaro, J Strauss.
Replacements: P MacArthur, R Grant, M Low, T Swinson, L Nakarawa, N Matawalu, R Jackson, S Lamont.
Devin Toner was talking to TheScore.ie as part of an in-depth interview that will feature in the upcoming @IRUPA magazine.