Toner all geared up for French onslaught

It was the moment Ireland finally got a hand on the RBS 6 Nations trophy.

Toner all geared up for French onslaught

A forward pass from Vincent Debaty to Damien Chouly at Stade de France which meant France had been denied a last-minute, game-winning try.

The Television Match Official took an age to decide but for Ireland head coach the forward pass had been “clear and obvious”. Whisper it quietly, but Devin Toner actually thought that Debaty’s pass was good and Ireland had lost the match. Eleven months on and championship winner’s medal aside, memories of that tumultuous night in Paris are still a little hazy for Ireland lock Toner, who will lock horns once more with the French this Saturday when Philippe Saint-Andre’s side come to Dublin.

“To be honest the only thing I remember is the last five minutes,” Toner admitted. “I remember seeing the pass — I didn’t think it was a forward pass! I thought it was a try and that we had lost.

“I thought it was gone, and then it went to the TMO. You’re hoping then for the best. Then we had the scrum which had a huge wheel and you’re just waiting for a whistle. They picked and went...the rest is history. But a lot of the rest of the game, I can’t remember.”

What did take place that night was that Joe Schmidt’s side defended brilliantly to the last, closing out a big game and banishing the painful memories of the previous November when New Zealand had broken Irish hearts by stealing victory at the death. Ireland have since managed the feat against both South Africa and Australia during the most recent autumn international window three months ago and Toner believes that facet of the team’s make-up is important to gaining long-term success.

Last March in Paris, though, was nail-biting stuff and the second row said: “We didn’t close it out as well as we could. Any team wants to close games out when you are on top. But to be panicky in the last few minutes is not good for anyone, not for the fans and certainly not for the team. It’s not something you can really work on, it’s hard to recreate that in training. You can’t recreate it in games. So you have to roll with it when it happens.

“We improved in that respect during November. There is a lot of confidence in the squad and the squad’s ability. So we are all evolving as a team.”

So too are the French, who seem to have turned a corner during the autumn under the guidance of new first-choice fly-half Camille Lopez and who will be arriving in Dublin this weekend in search of vengeance.

“I think they’re going to have it in their heads of how the game went last year — how we kind of stole it in the end or how they could have won it in the end,” Toner said.

“I think they’ll have it in the back of their minds that they’re going to want to come over here and do a job on us. So I think we’re going to have to lock that down.”

There is plenty to work on for Ireland this week following a laboured start to their championship defence in Rome, their 26-3 win over Italy pockmarked by unforced errors and less than fluent attacking play.

Head coach Schmidt said he was looking for a 20 to 30% improvement and Toner believes that is well within the squad’s capabilities.

“Yeah, the first week hit out, I don’t think anyone was massively pleased with the performance.

“Obviously we’re hugely pleased with the result, it’s just that looking back, we knocked the ball on a lot of times, we didn’t hold onto the ball, we didn’t really kind of get through the plays that we wanted to.

“We’re massively pleased with the result, it’s just we need to have a hugely better performance this week in order to get over the line.

“I said last week that we didn’t want to be caught kind of flat-footed in the first game, that we didn’t want to be getting into it in game three or game four.

“But we’ve got the first game out of the way now, I think we’ve got a good win and we’ll be able to kick on. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

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