Devin Toner reaches a notable milestone
Towering secondrow could make his 200th appearance for Leinster at RDS on Friday
Devin Toner: “I would be the first to say Leinster put a lot of faith in me, a lot of work, and I am really grateful for it.” Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
Few forget their first cap and Devin Toner is no exception as he stands on the threshold of making his 200th appearance for Leinster – a milestone he’ll reach in the Guinness Pro14 clash with the Cardiff Blues at the RDS on Friday night.
On January 27th, 2006, a then 19-year-old Toner came off the bench against the Border Reivers at Donnybrook to replace Adam Byrnes with 15-minutes remaining in a 62-14 victory. He shared a debut with Jonathan Sexton.
Toner made two appearances for Leinster that season, his second cap, a five-minute cameo against the Edinburgh Gunners at Murrayfield, coincidentally replacing the Australian-born, Russian international Byrnes yet again.
His provincial career was something of a slow burn, playing four matches the following season, six the year after, and it wasn’t until the 2008-2009 campaign that he became more of an established presence with 21 appearances.
In the current rugby climate he might not have been afforded the same latitude to develop slowly and he appreciates Leinster were patient in their perseverance.
“Leinster put a lot of faith in me when I was coming out of the academy. I did a lot of work myself but back then and compared to now, the young lads coming out of the academy are far more advanced than I was. They seem to be ready a lot younger now so I would be the first to say that Leinster put a lot of faith in me, a lot of work, and I am really grateful for it.
“[I was] very raw, yeah. I didn’t know my body shape. I was bent in rucks, bent in the scrum and I didn’t know how to get straight or low or how to use my size, I suppose. I learned over the years to use it. I didn’t think I was very impactful, that I drifted a bit. Hopefully I’m a bit better now.”
Toner took heart from the belief he wasn’t that far behind some of the other players in his position at the club. An injury to Leinster’s current head coach and then captain, Leo Cullen, provided the opportunity.
“I kind of stepped up and started calling lineouts and I took a bit of confidence in that. And obviously the confidence from coaches. Joe [Schmidt] and Jono Gibbes had faith in me and started playing me a lot. Seeing that confidence and repaying them was huge.”
In the 11-and-a-half years since his debut, Toner has seen plenty of players come and go at the province and this season there’s a couple of new stokers in the engine room, Australian international Scott Fardy and former academy secondrow, James Ryan, who made his Ireland debut during the summer.
Fardy, a brilliant backrow, is adjusting to the demands of a relatively new position, albeit he has played there before, while Ryan is a player of prodigious talent.
Toner said: “The first time I saw him [Ryan] was when he was captain of the Ireland U-20s team and he was unbelievable in that World Cup, watching him score tries. And then he had that horrific [hamstring] injury and had a year out.
“He was always down in the gym working hard, getting right. He only started training on the pitch with us at the end of last season and you can tell he is a special player. Obviously being selected for the Ireland tour then, he’s a really good trainer, really attentive, he listens to everything; you can tell he’s taking everything in.
“He likes to learn, he’s writing everything down and then just even on the Ireland tour he played really, really well. He came off the bench and scored a try straight away; then at the weekend when he came on he had a bursting run up the middle of the field.”
There are areas of Ryan’s game that need refining but that will come with time and increased confidence. He took a knock to his shoulder after coming on as a replacement to make his competitive debut for Leinster in the Dragons game and will be assessed.
Jordi Murphy was due to start last weekend but was withdrawn after taking a knock to his knee and along with Fergus McFadden (calf), Dave Kearney (groin) and Joey Carbery (calf) must all prove his fitness in training this week to be considered for selection.
Jamie Heaslip (lower back) made a graduated return to practice last week while hooker Richardt Strauss’ recovery from a knee procedure has been slower than anticipated and he will only resume light work this week.
Scrumhalf Luke McGrath and flanker Rhys Ruddock, both of whom toured with Ireland during the summer, will be available for the Cardiff match on Friday, when Toner achieves that notable milestone of a double century.