Devin Toner: Whole pack must shoulder blame for scrum woes

Ireland lock defends props as he prepares for another physical encounter with England

Ireland secondrow Devin Toner pictured at  Carton House on Tuesday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland secondrow Devin Toner pictured at Carton House on Tuesday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Devin Toner has defended Ireland’s props saying the locks and backrow were as much to blame for the Irish scum being crushed in the second half of their game against France.

As the Ireland scrum went backwards and buckled under the French shove it was the props that emerged from the wreckage as the principle culprits. Just as it is not always the hooker’s fault for misplaced lineout throws, Toner concedes the backup five were as much part of the Irish problem.

France made their tactical intentions clear when they left set piece specialists Rabah Slimani and Eddy Ben Arous on the bench and began the match instead with Jefferson Poirot and Uini Atonio.

“A lot of weight does come through us, and they rely on us a lot,” said Toner.

“But it’s the full pack as well. One of our mantras is to scrum as an eight, because the flankers add a lot of weight there too . . . it’s the whole pack to be honest.”

Toner is waiting to see who will partner him at the weekend in Twickenham with few looking beyond the 32-year-old Munster lock Donnacha Ryan to replace Mike McCarthy, whose season was ended by a clash of heads with Ireland prop Jack McGrath. Ultane Dillane’s name is also beginning to come up for mention as Ireland run short after the injuries to McCarthy and Iain Henderson, and the retirement of Paul O’Connell.

“Yeah, What have I been doing right to still be here,” quipped the lock. “One of those things which have helped me in my career, touch wood, is I haven’t had many injuries. But yeah a few of them have been dropping around the place.”

Toner, now assuming more responsibility since O’Connell’s retirement, is not unaware that Dillane comes with some high recommendations.

“Yeah I think he’s very promising,” says the Leinster lock. “He’s a big brute of a lad. He’s a good lineout option. He’s very explosive and . . . I haven’t seen a lot of the Connacht games this year . . . I’ve just had bits and pieces but I have seen of him he’s been fairly melting lads as well.”

Whatever way Joe Schmidt’s selection decision falls it means Toner making yet more adjustments. With McCarthy there was the comfort of Leinster familiarity.

With Ryan, Toner won’t have the same week in, week out connection but the two players share an interest in lineout tactics. Toner is not unwilling to listen to other options from the older player.

“They both bring different things,” he says of Ryan and McCarthy.

“The similarity is they are both very physical players. Donnacha Ryan I can bounce more ideas off I think. He’s more of a lineout brain man like myself because he is a caller himself.

“Mike doesn’t really call that many lineouts. That’s one of the things that differentiate them. He’s very good at organising defensive lineouts as well so the two of us can bounce ideas off each other.

“I’m not going to say it’s more of a help than Mike but I suppose he (Ryan) can take the load off me yeah . . . ”

As always with the callers, and O’Connell was no different, lineout throws that get away are a source of frustration. The Irish lineout ran well against France but the grit in the ointment was the one that got away

“Yeah pretty happy with how things are going,” said Toner. “Obviously I’ve been responsible for the lineout in the last two games and by and large we have done pretty well. I think we lost one ball in the last game . . .that’s always frustrating to lose one but yeah.

“I’m getting more comfortable with it in that position and being able to take more myself. There’s obviously a lot more pressure in national games than there is with Leinster or playing with Paulie (O’Connell) . . . a little bit more nervous going into the games these days.”

Toner has never beaten England in Twickenham. But he knows the set pieces are going to have to run smoothly. With English coach Eddie Jones promoting the idea of the type of old fashioned values that won them the World Cup, it is absolutely going to be an area of conflict.

No fear. But plenty of respect.

“It is a big focus but we’ve got a good couple of leaders in there, Besty (Rory) as captain and pack leader he’s taken the onus on there,” says Toner. “Jack’s (McGrath) really stood up, and they are driving us on.

“We’ve been doing a fair bit of work this week, and it’s going to be huge again. They’ve obviously got a huge amount of experience with (Dan) Cole and (Joe) Marler, and (Dylan) Hartley in there. Hartley is a very good scrummager. It’s a very powerful eight to be honest.”

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