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POC on Devin Toner: 'I feel like a junior second-row beside him in the line-out'

The Munster and Leinster locks will start their first game together for Ireland this weekend.

Paul O'Connell and Devin Toner in action against Samoa.
Paul O'Connell and Devin Toner in action against Samoa.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

GOING INTO THE November Series, there were two schools of thought about Paul O’Connell’s second row partner.

There were valid arguments for Dan Tuohy [in form with Ulster] and Mike McCarthy [outstanding last November] with Donnacha Ryan’s injury leaving a vacancy alongside the Munster legend. Devin Toner’s name was in the mix but his challenge seemed distant.

The 6′ 11″ lock has benefited from a consistent start to the season with Leinster and his lineout calling has now given him the international edge. He claimed half of Rory Best’s lineout darts in the 40-9 win over Samoa and his take on 25 minutes led to the 20m rolling maul on Peter O’Mahony’s try.

Joe Schmidt praised Toner’s input after the Samoa match and backed up his words by selecting him to start what will be the biggest Test match of his three-year international career. The Meath native feature off the bench against New Zealand in 2010 but has not faced at top seven team in his other seven international appearances.

With Toner’s intermittent Ireland appearances and Paul O’Connell’s recent injury troubles, it comes as no shock that Saturday’s match will be their first together in the Irish second row.

“I feel like a junior second-row beside him in the line-out,” the Ireland captain remarked when he was asked what qualities Toner brought to the squad. O’Connell added, “He gives you an incredible amount of options and he’s incredibly knowledgeable in the lineout so I’m really looking forward to playing with him.

He’s a big man but plenty of width there too. From working a few years with Joe, he’s obviously very diligent about his role. He knows his role inside out, which is a big thing [for players] under Joe’s philosophy. He’s an excellent player and has been getting better and better every season.”

Sean Cronin  has seen the lock develop his game, and confidence, at provincial level, first under Schmidt and now Matt O’Connor. “Dev has been a rock in the Leinster pack this year and he has stepped up to the plate the last 18 months,” said Cronin.

“It is fantastic for him. A huge opportunity. I thought he did well last week and it is great that he is getting another opportunity and Paulie is coming in next to him. I’m sure they can get a good relationship going.”

Rolling maul

It is tempting to think, especially with Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and O’Connell coming in, that the Ireland pack could reproduce a similar, try-scoring maul against Australia this weekend. O’Connell argues that the Wallabies’ defence should put up a bigger fight than Samoa.

He commented, “Australia have been together a while. They’ve had some really tough tests against tough mauling teams for the past number of weeks – England Argentina, South Africa – teams that really love to maul. Their defence, they’ve been practising it for the last number of months so they’ll be really tough to maul against. That maul at the weekend, off a six-man [lineout], I don’t think that was a big strength of Samoa’s – the maul.”

While tries from rolling mauls would be more than welcome, Schmidt and Ireland would settle for an attacking platform from their lineouts while stealing a couple from the Wallabies. Toner will, once again, back himself at the setpiece and do so with the backing of the replacement hooker, his captain and coach.

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Patrick McCarry

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