The first game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup is still 85 days away and yet Ireland are back in camp almost two weeks already. It’s no wonder that Toner opined yesterday that these summer breaks never feel long enough. For Ireland, though, there is plenty to work on.
Hot favourites for the Six Nations – and hot on the heels of New Zealand in the odds for the World Cup – at the start of the year, their stock plummeted on the back of a difficult Six Nations which ended with an abject defeat away to Wales.
It’s not the sort of platform on which Joe Schmidt would have wished to build towards the upcoming event in Japan where Ireland will be hoping to atone for even more painful loss in Cardiff, to Argentina, in the World Cup four years ago.
Ireland’s failure that day was linked to a lack of depth in the squad that was ruthlessly exposed by the South Americans when a number of key players were missing through injury and suspension.
The theory is that Schmidt learned a valuable lesson that day, one he has been putting into practice ever since by blooding more players on the international stage, but Toner has a different take on that traumatic quarter-final exit.
“A lot of that blame was on the players, it wasn’t on Joe,” he said in Dublin’s Energia Park yesterday.
He added: “A lot of the times when you look back over a game that you have lost, it’s because you don’t stick to the system or someone does something that doesn’t stick to the system, or an individual error, or you are just not fronting up, or you are losing the physical battle, or losing the little one-on-ones.”
Being under the spotlight for performances is one thing but the recent IRFU investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Sean O’Brien has turned the focus to matters away from the pitch lately.
The flanker was, according to the union, sanctioned “in line with the provisions of his contract” after an incident in a Dublin pub last month where Leinster players were celebrating the retention of their Guinness PRO14 title.
According to Toner, there has been no general discussion held by the squad as to how they conduct themselves as players going forward, but only because the squad of players is already keenly aware of what is expected.
“Everyone knows what is going on and what standards we hold ourselves to and what we should be able to hold ourselves to,” said the second row who has declared himself fully fit after an ankle injury forced him to sit out the PRO14 final.