His was the most controversial absence from Joe Schmidt’s final 31-man Ireland squad for the 2019 World Cup and the former head coach has revealed part of the reason for Devin Toner’s omission was the fear of a possible disciplinary ban.
The veteran Leinster lock had been one of the cornerstones of Ireland’s successes during Schmidt’s six-year reign as Ireland boss and a place on the plane to Japan for the head coach’s final tournament before leaving his post had been assumed to be set in stone for Toner.
Yet when the 33-year-old was overlooked as the squad was revealed on September 2, two days after a warm-up Test against Wales in Cardiff, it was the main talking point from the announcement.
Writing in Ordinary Joe, published by Penguin Ireland and released today, Schmidt explains his reasoning for his squad selections during the final part of the book, a diary of the World Cup campaign.
In his entry of Sunday, September 1, written on Ireland’s return to Dublin following the 22-17 victory over Wales at the Principality Stadium, Schmidt focuses on what appeared to be an innocuous incident involving Toner during the previous day’s game.
“One very tough decision was leaving Devin Toner out of the squad,” Schmidt writes.
“Dev had been late to get started in the pre-season due to an injury, but he was a known quantity for us.
“We had hoped that he’d solve a few lineout issues when he came on against England (in the previous week’s Test), but we were also realistic that one person cannot completely change something which has so many working parts.
“We hadn’t noticed the contact at the time but we reviewed the footage and it didn’t look good. We could see that there was nothing deliberate from Dev but that his shoulder had impacted directly onto Rob Evans’s head.
“After Scott Barrett’s red card and suspension over a shoulder charge in the Rugby Championship, we fretted that Dev would incur a similar sanction.
“We had been warned by Alain Rolland, in his presentation to us, that any shoulder-to-head contact was likely to have a starting point of a six-week suspension.
As it turned out, there was no citing for Toner arising from the incident. Schmidt also made big calls for his final 31-man squad at loosehead prop, in the back row and at scrum-half, where there was a three-man race for the single vacancy of back-up to first-choice number nine Conor Murray— between Ulster’s John Cooney, Leinster’s Luke McGrath, and Connacht’s Kieran Marmion.
Schmidt described the scrum-half conundrum as “especially difficult” but writes: “We opted for Luke on the strength of his kicking game.”