Irish team – and Toner – confident they can learn from the past
Lock’s career has been a triumph of learning and building at Leinster and Ireland
Ireland’s Devin Toner during the captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Six tries against Ireland in the two games against Wales and Scotland and despite winning, it sometimes feels as if looking at the negative side of the performances is in some way an effort to purge the past.
The build up to the 2007 World Cup in France has been used as a stick to beat Irish teams showing form. In those summer months, prior to the side travelling to Bordeaux, warm-up mistakes seeped into the preparation and ultimately the tournament.
It seems now a priority to cautiously monitor any show of form. In that context, three tries against in each match is a little leaky for Irish tastes.
“It’s my first World Cup involvement so I’m not sure,” says Devin Toner. “It’s the first time where my first game of the season is a full Test so that’s a bit weird.
“It is one that we have to nip in the bud and make sure it doesn’t progress, but as a team we’ve been successful in that regard over the past two, three years and there is a lot of confidence that we can address it.”
Toner’s focus, though, is on the second row rather than shouldering the concerns more readily addressed to Joe Schmidt. Four years ago as the team took off, his name wasn’t on any World Cup radar.
Pinnacle of career
His career is has been a triumph of learning and building at Leinster and Ireland. Adding pieces to his evident lineout ability has been the most eye catching part of the development.
“The pinnacle of my career is playing for Ireland and then going to the World Cup, so, yeah, if you’d said it to me four years ago that I’d be going to the next World Cup then I’d have bitten your hand off,” he says. “If I’m selected to go, then I’d be delighted.”
Paul O’Connell and the current Leinster coach, Leo Cullen, have been influences. He has watched both and also listened to Schmidt. Toner’s luck is that he has had a lot of quality in-coming from respected sources. He knows too that Schmidt cuts both ways, he says, but you must react.
“Joe would be the first to say that you need to get your basics right,” he says. “During this series, all I’m focused on is winning primary possession. I’m expected to win lineout ball and then the basics of what a second-row is expected to do . . . get restarts right, ruck well, carry well.
“He doesn’t need a spectacular runner. Obviously you have your skills like passing and things like that, but if I get my basics right and I get a barrel right at ruck time and carry well, then that’s the focus.”
Hitting rucks and mauls low down may not have come naturally to the 6’10” player. But it has become available to him, where players like O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony, Donncha Ryan and Iain Henderson seem to naturally thrive. Toner has come a long way since the last World Cup and there is, he believes, more.
“I have, over the past few years, been working on a fair few drills,” he says. “I’d stay for five or 10 minutes after a session working on the bag, trying to get my body position really low.”
Learning from the past then, the Irish team and the second row.