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'Dev will give us good impact' - Toner dropped by Leinster for semi-final

Meanwhile, Leo Cullen explained his decision to go for a 6/2 split on the bench.

ONLY MONTHS AGO, Devin Toner was one of the first names onto the team sheet for Leinster and Ireland.

The 30-year-old’s lineout leadership and consistent work rate made him crucial to both teams, but more recently the Meath man has found himself dropped by province and country.

Tadhg Furlong and Devin Toner Toner has been dropped to the bench. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Toner was on the bench for Ireland’s final Six Nations game, with Iain Henderson and Donnacha Ryan preferred, and now Leo Cullen has left him in reserve for Leinster’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final against the Scarlets tomorrow at the RDS [KO 7.45pm, TG4/Sky Sports].

Kiwi grafter Hayden Triggs and 23-year-old Ross Molony are the chosen lock pair for the clash, and the concern is that Toner’s form has dipped away at the wrong time of the season.

Asked if Toner is now facing an important challenge for province and country at this stage of his career, Cullen instead pointed to the 6’11″ lock’s impact off the bench.

No, I just think it’s a competitive group,” said Cullen. “Dev will come on and I think it’s important that we finish strong in these games, so Dev will give us good impact there.”

Instead, Cullen pointed to a recent injury issue for Toner.

He didn’t train last week, Devin,” said Cullen. “He had been carrying a little bit of an ankle knock from Ulster, but Hayden and Ross Molony have both gone well this year. I think we’ve got a good combination of the guys starting and guys finishing as well.”

Toner’s fellow Ireland internationals Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw are back in the Leinster XV for tomorrow, although Sean O’Brien makes his return from a hamstring injury on the bench.

“He’s been making good progress,” said Cullen of O’Brien. “We’re still managing Sean coming back in, so I think we’ve gone hard and picked a strong team. A strong set of reserves too that will hopefully represent Leinster well.

Sean O’Brien O'Brien is back on the Leinster bench. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“You come to the challenge after 22 regular-season games where we’ve used 51 players, so competition has been really, really high.”

So it is that Josh van der Flier, Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan start in the back row, with Leavy and O’Brien providing cover among six forwards on the bench.

That means Jamison Gibson-Park and Zane Kirchner are the only two backs among the replacements, although fullback Joey Carbery does of course cover out-half.

“Rhys Ruddock said he is pretty happy covering midfield and Dan Leavy likes covering the wing as well,” joked Cullen. “We’ve done it a couple of times before. There is always a little bit of risk, but as I said we have a strong group there.

Even the likes of Luke McGrath has played on the wing for us this year and Zane gives very, very good coverage whether at 15, on the wing or he’s played in the centre for us this season as well. We’ve got good versatility there across the board.”

Meanwhile, the Scarlets will be without injured captain Ken Owens for this semi-final, while aggressive lock Jake Ball is also missing for the Welsh region.

The return of ultra-energetic openside James Davies is a boost, but Lions hooker Owens will certainly be missed.

“It’s been pretty well documented that Jake Ball would be out, he picked up that shoulder injury in the Connacht game,” said Cullen. “But Ken Owens is captain of the club and I’m not sure exactly what is wrong with him, but he’s a key figure.

Leo Cullen Cullen is hoping for a big crowd at the RDS tomorrow. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“[Ryan] Elias has featured in a lot of games for them as well. Similar to ourselves, they’ve had a good, strong core group that have been a mainstay of their Pro12 campaign that have taken on most workload while X internationals are missing. So I think they’ll be pretty comfortable.”

Leinster hooker Sean Cronin was at the RDS with the squad for their captain’s run this afternoon, though he trained on his own as he rehabs a “difficult” neck issue.

Cronin will not feature this weekend and was also left out of Ireland’s tour of the US and Japan next month.

His neck injury cropped up post the Clermont week, so you’re never too sure how, with a disk in the neck, they settle down,” said Cullen. “He’s been a little bit slower than we would have originally forecasted so we’re trying to manage him carefully.

“He is back out running but he wasn’t fit and available this week and that leaves him very tight for what’s ahead. He was left out of the tour as well, so we’re trying to make sure he gets right.”

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