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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 10 April 2021

'It means the world to me' - Toner set for first Ireland start since World Cup omission

The 33-year-old thought his Test career was over when he was left out of last year’s trip to Japan.

WHEN HE WAS in the depths of his World Cup omission despair, Devin Toner seriously thought his international career was over.

Already 33-years-old, the Leinster lock feared that new boss Andy Farrell would move on with younger players in 2020.

So it’s safe to say he didn’t initially foresee himself being part of Ireland’s trip to London this weekend.

“If you had told me a couple of months ago that I’d be starting against England in Twickenham I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” said Toner this afternoon after Ireland’s captain’s run ahead of tomorrow’s Six Nations clash.

devin-toner Toner at Twickenham this afternoon. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Having made two sub appearances in the wins over Scotland and Wales, Toner now gets his first start for Ireland since the World Cup warm-up clash with Italy last August in Dublin.

Toner was named on the Ireland bench earlier this week but Iain Henderson’s withdrawal from the game after his wife gave birth means that ‘Big Dev’ comes into the starting team alongside provincial team-mate James Ryan.

“It means the world to me,” said Toner, who will win his 70th cap tomorrow. “I’m delighted to get the chance.

“Obviously Hendy was picked to start and he’s had a fantastic tournament so far and very happy for him on the birth of a second child, so he’ll be at home getting some sleep… I doubt it! But it means the world to me to be playing again.”

Sitting alongside Toner at Ireland’s media briefing following their captain’s run, assistant coach Simon Easterby paid tribute to how the popular Meath man picked himself up and bounced back from his World Cup dejection.

“It was probably the most difficult decision we had to make but he went back to Leinster and, credit to him, he just knuckled down, did what he does really well,” said Easterby.

“I think it’s always a bit of a crossroads in someone’s career when that happens but Dev said, ‘You know what, it’s happened but I’m going to make sure that it’s difficult not to pick me come the Six Nations’ and that’s exactly what he did in his performances for Leinster both when we were at the World Cup and continued to do so.

bundee-aki-and-devin-toner-celebrate-after-the-game Toner starts in the second row tomorrow. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“It’s a big challenge for Dev and the rest of the pack tomorrow but in my time, I could think of all the games where, as a forward pack, we’ve been right in the mix and Dev has been involved in the majority of those performances.

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“He knows that it’s going to take a huge effort tomorrow for us to come out on the other side with a result but I think the work that he’s put in with Leinster and in the time we’ve been together as a Six Nations squad has shown that he’s fully committed to that.

“Maybe in his own mind he’s making up for a bit of lost ground and credit to him for doing that.”

Toner said there will always be “a fear factor” about playing at Twickenham, even if Ireland have proven that winning in London is not an insurmountable challenge in the recent past.

The Ireland second row stressed that Andy Farrell’s team must improve on the performance they beat Wales with the last time out, and he knows that fronting up is crucial.

“From our point of view, it starts in the pack, it starts with lineout, it starts with ruck,” said Toner.

“We know they’re a hugely physical team and you can tell from the team that they’ve picked, with the two second rows on the bench and a very tall lineout.

“Obviously, [George] Kruis is one of the best lineout operators in the world at the minute, so they’re going to come after us in that area of the game and we’re going to have to be screwed on.” 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Twickenham

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