History still in the making for Devin Toner in South Africa

Despite the recent death of his father, the Ireland secondrow is at his usual best

IIreland’s Devin Toner was awarded the Man of the Match after victory against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

IIreland’s Devin Toner was awarded the Man of the Match after victory against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

 

You could hardly have scripted it really. Barely two weeks after his father passed away, Devin Toner was immense in every sense in last Saturday’s first Test win. If it was written in the stars that he would be named the Man of the Match, so it afforded him the opportunity to dedicate the award to his father live on television when pointing to the heavens.

Toner’s significant if somewhat understated influence for Ireland was again manifest in Cape Town. Rising to the challenge, so to speak, he again marshalled the Irish lineout on the hoof superbly, notably in the build up to Jared Payne’s opening try and all the more so after their options were reduced by the dismissal of CJ Stander against the Boks’ huge defensive armoury.

He made 11 tackles, including at least one choke tackle, won a crucial loose ball in the air to earn the penalty with which Paddy Jackson kicked Ireland 23-13 ahead.

One can only imagine the pride his family felt in his performance. His father, Peter, had passed away suddenly two days before Leinster lost the Pro12 final against Connacht, but although he was in no state to play that game, he revealed that his family left him in no doubt that missing the tour was not an option.

‘Definitely going’

“Then, it was hard for me to get my head around it at the start, getting back into things and then at the start of the week, I wasn’t feeling great but then as we started getting closer to the Test match, it kind of clicked that this was obviously a massive Test match, with history to be made. It was there for us, so I kind of got my head around it and started getting up for it. The longer the week went on, the closer we got to the game, the more I got into it.”

Besides which, this close-knit squad are akin to an extended family for Toner, who has started all but three of his 30 Tests in Joe Schmidt’s tenure.

“It was actually good to have a distraction. You had to come straight into camp and get your head around calls. Obviously with so many lads around, you’re talking and it’s a bit of a distraction. But all the lads were so supportive. They were all down at the funeral as well.”

Poignant aspect

“It’s funny I’m just after texting her before I came in just to ring the priest, and ring other people about things that are going on.”

In the meantime, there is the small matter of the two remaining tests, and Toner gave an insight into the renewed energy which Andy Farrell has brought to their defence.

“Faz has done a great job with us on D this week. We’re really up for it. We want to get off the line. We want to be enthusiastic about it. We want to do well for him as well – a new coach coming in. We want to do right by him. He is. He knows his stuff. He’s really knowledgeable about the game and he really knows his stuff, tackle entry and just the systems in place.

“The main thing that we need to do is work hard, and be enthusiastic about it. We need to be bouncing around the place and be able to get into the line quickly so that you’re able to get off the line. If you’re kind of ambling back when they’re passing the ball you’re not going to get off the line.”

Now more history beckons for last Saturday’s history makers.

“Before the tour, one win would have been enough but now we’re really going to go after it. We have the bit between our teeth and we’re really going to go after it this week.”

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