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Ryan's set-piece brain and 'brute' Dillane welcome additions for ever-ready Toner

Toner’s durability has made him a permanent fixture in the second row while partners have come and gone.

OF ALL THE medical issues on Ireland’s books this year, the news that Mike McCarthy was advised to sit out the remainder of the season was the most concerning.

The second row has reported some gruesome injuries this season, most notably the hamstring rip that ended Paul O’Connell’s career, but matters of the head are more enduring and the most grave.

Ireland’s Mike McCarthy Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

McCarthy visited a specialist last week after taking a concussive blow in the narrow defeat to France in Paris. The advice to sit out the remainder of the season was apparently offered due to the frequency the problem has arisen for the 34-year-old.

“I think he’’s had two or three this season. I think that’s the main reason,” says Devin Toner, understandably reluctant to offer an undiagnosed clinical diagnosis from little more than calls and texts to his team-mate for club and country.

“His spirits are quite high. He’’s just disappointed he is missing the rest of the season so I don’’t think he’’s had any recurring symptoms afterwards.”

Toner is one of the lucky ones, a dwindling number of elite rugby players who have little to no history of concussion.

The lock jokes that it may be because his head is too far off the ground, but he has been fortunate to avoid serious injury to other parts of his body too. 26 of his 33 caps have come since the Joe Schmidt era began in late 2013 and he has played all 80 minutes in 13 of those games – a mightily impressive 50% strike rate.

Devin Toner Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“What have I been doing right to still be here?” He says with eyebrows raised at the mention of the thinning resources in Ireland’s engine room that means this weekend Donnacha Ryan can expect to start for just the third time under Schmidt.

Though McCarthy more than justified his selection with two excellently dogged performances against Wales and France, Toner will welcome the added set-piece experience that Ryan brings. The Tipperary man will make the task of mentally dismantling England’s line-out a job for both starting locks again. Just as Toner was an able deputy for O’Connell, this week Ryan will be there to ease some of the pressure from the 29-year-old’s shoulders.

(Ryan) is more of a line-out brain man like myself because he is a caller himself. Mike doesn’’t really call that many line-outs. That’’s one of the things that differentiate them.

“He’’s very good at organising defensive line-outs as well, so the two of us can bounce ideas off each other as well. That’s a help… I’’m not going to say it’’s more of a help than Mike, but I suppose he can take the load off me, yeah.”

Devin Toner Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Toner has taken note, but not much more of England’s superstar second row in the making Maro Itoje. He was analysed what he needs to of the 21-year-old Saracens phenom, yet he concedes that he hasn’t been sitting around to watch and marvel at every game he plays.

“I hear all the hype anyway,” says the Meath man with a wry smile. He is far better prepared to speak about Ireland’s own bolter at lock, Ultan Dillane.

“He’’s a big brute of a lad. He’’s a good line-out option, he’’s very explosive,” Toner says about the 22-year-old Tralee man.

He’s been fairly melting lads as well, so if he gets a chance hopefully he will take it.”

With each passing session surrounded by international quality, Dillane is proving himself to be more than just a show-reel tackler. And if there are lingering doubts about whether he will be trusted to make a debut in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Twickenham, then the praise of his forwards coach appeared to remove them again.

Ultan Dillane and Devin Toner Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He’s a pretty physical animal,” began the enthusiastic appraisal of Simon Easterby.

“We have seen him attack and we have seen him defend. He hits rucks and scrummages well. He is very powerful in the gym. He is the sort of player who, if we can hone his skills and his awareness at this level, then he is going to have a bright future.”

“Like anyone new coming into camp, they are always going to have a bedding-in period, but all the players in that position have really adapted and contributed to the environment and that is testament to the work they have had to put in the next few weeks. Hopefully those guys will get some opportunity.”

And hopefully they can steer as deftly clear of injuries to the mind and body as Toner has.

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Sean Farrell

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