Andy Farrell’s upcoming elevation to the role of Ireland head coach has been universally welcomed on these shores and yet no amount of succession planning can override the usual raft of known unknowns.
The former rugby league player has put together a spectacular CV via his days coaching with Saracens, England, the Lions, and Ireland but he has never been the man calling all the shots in any of those dressing rooms.
Taking over from Joe Schmidt after next year’s World Cup will amount to his first stint at the top of any staff pyramid and the only guarantee is his knowledge, experience, and personality will inevitably bring a different shade to the set-up than that of the Kiwi.
Whether that is for good or bad, only time will tell.
“Obviously, because he’s been focusing on defence for the last couple of years, he’s more into getting you to get off the line, get your big hits in, trying to impose yourself on the game, get in your head, and get you to be emotional.
“Whereas Joe is a detail man and trying to get your homework done. He does try and get you up as well, but not as much as Faz. That might change now (Faz) will be the head coach. I’ll see what happens.”
We all will.
Toner will always feel in Schmidt’s debt. He has flourished under the New Zealander’s watch. First at Leinster and then with Ireland. He morphed from a decent lock who sat out the big games for Leinster to an integral part of the club and national side’s packs.
His admiration for Farrell isn’t lacking either. Toner is just as impressed with the Englishman’s achievements in recent years and he has spoken of Farrell’s popularity among the Ireland playing group. He is “delighted” that Farrell has landed the big job.
If the absence of a head coaching role before now lends itself to a smigden of unease then the example of Schmidt, who arrived in Ireland eight years ago with similar questions hanging over him, shows it need not be a fatal flaw.
Schmidt took over at Leinster in 2010 having served as an assistant to Vern Cotter at Clermont Auvergne. The first month of his first season was distinctly ropey thanks to four defeats in five games but the story since has been lined with silver.
“We didn’t know much about him before he came. Then he transformed the squad with the detail he was bringing and everyone had to do their work.
With the international game locked down for the rest of the calendar year, thoughts have turned again to the club scene and Leinster continue their Champions Cup defence this Saturday with a third round tie away to Bath.
Their defeat in Toulouse back in October was in no way terminal, especially given the consolation bonus-point secured on the day, but it is a loss that leaves them with little wiggle room if they are to secure a quarter-final berth and, with it, a home tie.
“Obviously it makes this weekend all that more important for us. It is a really important game in a good block of games that we are starting now, so it is hugely important for us to get a win.”