Toner can carry load for Blues

Devin Toner accepts he will be one of those senior players expected to plug the leadership gap in Leinster’s pack created by Leo Cullen’s off-season move upstairs to coaches’ office.

Toner can carry load for Blues

Cullen’s playing time was already beginning to drop before he hung up his boots, but the absence of a grizzled vet like the three-time Heineken Cup-winning captain, or even a Brad Thorn or Nathan Hines, leaves Leinster looking to their giant second row.

“With Leo stepping down, there is a gap there,” said Toner yesterday. “I think I took last year to step in and run the lineout as I did. I’ve learned pretty much everything I know off Leo. To have him still around is pretty cool.

“He has brought a little more directness over planning our weeks and planning our lineouts and our strategies. He has slipped into the coach’s role seamlessly like I knew he would. There is a lot more responsibility on my shoulders this year to step up”.

Toner seems well primed to do it.

After years spent wandering in and out of the Leinster line-up, last season proved to be a massive leap forward for the lineout specialist who made serious inroads with both club and country.

He accepts the need to do more when carrying the ball into contact, but Toner has added almost four pounds to his frame — he is now 127lbs — as he looks to take charge of a second row unit also containing Mike McCarthy and new signing Kane Douglas.

The plan this year?

“Just back it up. Do the same again. I think I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. I think I’m the strongest I’ve ever been as well. Hopefully, that transpires into playing well. We’ll see.”

Cullen, for one, believes his old lieutenant can progress.

“I’d hope [he would be] better again. When you’ve got someone that size it’s always going to take a little bit longer to fill into your body. He’s pushing into his late 20s and I think he’s entering into his best years.

“That’s what we would hope at least. But, yeah, he’s grown as a leader in the team.”

Toner was sat on his couch last week watching Leinster lose late-on to Glasgow but Matt O’Connor will hope to welcome back more internationals for the visit of Scarlets to the RDS in four day’s time with Toner and new skipper Jamie Heaslip among those likely to be involved.

Others have some way to go before they can report for duty. Rob Kearney is still managing a foot problem, Gordon D’Arcy requires some more contact work in training and Luke Fitzgerald is still unavailable with his long-term groin/hip issue.

Noel Reid, who went over on his ankle in the first minute in Glasgow and had to be replaced, remains a doubt.

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