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Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
# Comeback
'Dev had a big setback at a bad time for him but he has bounced back well'
Leinster man Devin Toner starts for Ireland on Sunday against England as Iain Henderson drops out.

UNSURPRISINGLY IN AN environment as ruthless as professional rugby, the big cheer Devin Toner got for catching a lineout against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on the opening weekend of the Six Nations has been fodder for slagging.

The 33-year-old had just come off the bench for his first appearance in a green jersey since missing out on World Cup selection and the crowd in Dublin wanted Toner to hear their respect and grá.

devin-toner-celebrates-after-the-game Bryan Keane / INPHO Toner with his son after Ireland's win over Wales. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

There will be plenty of goodwill coming Toner’s way on Sunday too, as he makes his first start for Ireland since his World Cup omission, having come into the team in place of Iain Henderson, whose wife gave birth to a boy this week.

Having missed two training sessions in preparation for the clash with England in Twickenham, it would have been a big ask for Henderson to start, so Toner takes his place in the second row alongside James Ryan, while Connacht’s Ultan Dillane – another to miss out on the World Cup – comes onto the bench.

Rather neatly, Dillane’s Test debut came at Twickenham in 2016, when he made a searing linebreak after coming off the bench. He will hope for a similar impact four years on.

“We’re delighted for both of them,” said Ireland assistant coach John Fogarty. “Dev missed the World Cup and he’s back in now and what a game to come in and start. Away, a Triple Crown on the line, so we’re delighted for both of them.

“Faz [head coach Andy Farrell] was speaking with Iain during the week to see how it would all turn out. It became clear this morning. We had planned during the week, in the eventuation that it would happen, that Dev is there and Ulty is there.

“We’re delighted for Iain, a little baby boy.

“And the boys are ready, they had a good week of prep so all is good.”

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton praised Leinster team-mate Toner for how he responded to being left out of the World Cup as he stated the squad’s happiness for the Meath man at getting his 53rd start for Ireland as he wins cap number 70 this weekend.

devin-toner-and-bundee-aki Ryan Byrne / INPHO Toner gets a start after making two replacement appearances. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s brilliant for him,” said Sexton. “He has bounced back really well. Obviously, everyone has setbacks through their career and he had a big one at a bad time for him but he has bounced back well.

“You saw by the reception that he got against Scotland, I’ve never heard a crowd cheer so loud for a lineout win.

“We were giving him a bit of stick about it but it just shows what everyone thinks of him. All the lads are delighted for him.”

Meanwhile, there has been much surprise at the make-up of England’s team for the weekend, with Eddie Jones opting to give centre Jonathan Joseph his first Test start on the left wing on the occasion of his 50th cap.

With Elliot Daly returning to fullback after George Furbank was ruled out with injury, Jones has also gone for a 6/2 bench split that will see Henry Slade providing backline cover.

“We obviously prepared for some different combinations but we’ll catch up on those things this evening and tomorrow,” said Sexton.

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“I’m not surprised,” continued the Ireland out-half when asked specifically about Joseph playing on the wing. “He is a pretty talented player.

eddie-jones Billy Stickland / INPHO Eddie Jones' selection of Joseph has raised some eyebrows. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“One of our video analysts kind of thought they might go that way. I don’t know if he was spying on them or something like that! He guessed that they could go that way, the way that they named their 25 or 26 players, whatever they named.

“Obviously when they got Manu [Tuilagi] back, they are trying to get all of their best players onto the pitch. They have got a strong lineup.”

While Tuilagi and Slade’s returns are a boost for England, they are without Mako and Billy Vunipola, though Sexton insists Ireland are still expecting the best English performance since the World Cup.

“One thing I’ve always thought about England is that they’ve got so much strength in depth with so many players that they’re four, five or six players deep in everyone position really. They’re very lucky to have that. 

“We’re going to be preparing for the best England team that we’ve seen in this championship because they’ve played two games in pretty poor conditions so we haven’t seen their best.

“We’ve prepared for their best by watching the games they played against us last year, the New Zealand game they played in the [World Cup] semis, a lot of their other World Cup games as well. It’s been a good prep but we know we have it all to do.”

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