Toner backed to shoulder lineout burden

IRELAND debutant Devin Toner has been backed to successfully lead his country’s lineout out of the abyss into which it sank last weekend when Samoa come to the Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

The 6ft 10 Leinster lock will not just earn his first international cap but lead the lineout against Samoa as he and Munster’s Donncha O’Callaghan, with a new three-year contract yesterday, as well as Connacht hooker Sean Cronin bid to erase a nightmare set-piece performance last Saturday when Ireland succumbed to defeat against South Africa.

Toner replaces Mick O’Driscoll while Cronin comes in for Rory Best following a series of botched throws and ill-judged calls that were pounced on eagerly by the Springboks’ Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Juan Smith.

Acknowledging those errors, Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal said yesterday the 24-year-old Toner would be up to the responsibility being placed upon him.

“He’s quite composed and very calm,” Smal said. “He’s not nervous at all and I think he backs his ability so I’ve got all confidence in him that he can do the job.”

Of the lineout last week, Smal added: “We knew it was going to be a tough one. Last year we played them at the end of their tour but this time it was their first game and they’d had two weeks of preparation.

“So they had new lineouts and also changed their lineout calls and we didn’t have any idea what they were throwing at us.

“Our lineouts I was very disappointed with. We could have done a little bit better and we’ll be much stronger coming out of that game.”

Smal described his compatriot Matfield’s experience — at first saying it amounted to 100 years rather than 100 caps before joking “it feels like 100 years” — and anticipation as being a key factor in Ireland’s downfall and the Springboks as: “the best lineout you can encounter in world rugby and in terms of contesting against you as well.

“So the timing of your throw, the speed of your throw, the movement on the ground has to be absolutely spot on.”

O’Callaghan will certainly be buzzing on his 65th appearance following the signing of a new Ireland international contract that will see him remain with Munster until 2014.

“It is very important that we continue to retain players of the calibre of Donncha in Ireland and I am delighted that he has made the decision to remain here,” Ireland head coach Declan Kidney said, while the player himself commented: “As players we are so well looked after by both the national and provincial management teams and I feel incredibly privileged to be able to play the sport I love for both Ireland and Munster.

“Munster is my home province and the decision to continue my career here was an easy one when you consider the standard of players in the squad and the incredible support I have received from both the fans and my family. My focus now is to try and perform as well as I can to help Munster and Ireland to be successful.”

That task starts immediately with defence coach Les Kiss warning of a unique challenge presented by Samoa.

“There’s such a brilliance about their game and I don’t mean they just play individually but their individualism is brilliant,” Kiss said. “If they sniff an opportunity in a game then they just go for it and then the other players intuitively follow that and they can offload the ball from all positions.

“So they have this natural ability to be able to sense opportunity and go for it and so we need to make sure that we’re clinical and build the types of defensive lines and structures that build certainty for us and take away as many of those opportunities that they can field.

“Once we do that in our frontline, they next thing that they do is chip and look for other options that they’re brilliant at so we just need to have good basics in place, doing all the little things well within our structure and systems to just take away those opportunities that they can sense at the drop of a pin.”

Following a day off on Wednesday, the Irish players regrouped in Dublin yesterday, augmented by Leicester captain Geordan Murphy, unscathed from his outing for the Tigers against Australia at Welford Road on Tuesday night.

The replacements’ bench for the match-day squad was also finalised yesterday.

Full-back Rob Kearney, who suffered bruising around his knee when scoring his late try against the Springboks and had not been able to train this week, failed in his bid to make the bench and Keith Earls, rather than Murphy, was handed the number 22 jersey with scrum-half Isaac Boss the only substitute named that did not feature in the match-day squad against South Africa.

Ireland replacements (v Samoa): R Best (Ulster), C Healy (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), I Boss (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), K Earls (Munster)

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