Leo Cullen says the coming week will be a “big” one for Devin Toner, as the Ireland second row prepares to make a well-timed return to fitness.
The lock injured his ankle in the opening Six Nations defeat to England at the start of February, and has been missed by club and country since.
But a comeback against Glasgow this weekend – eight days before the visit of Toulouse to Aviva Stadium for the Champions Cup semi-final, could be on the cards.
“It is a big week for Dev, he got through all last week, the physios and rehab guys have been working really hard with him so when he does come back he’s in the best possible shape,” said Cullen.
Toner took part in the warm up on Saturday, ahead of the entertaining 27-27 draw against Benetton, where second row Mick Kearney suffered an apparently serious arm injury.
With Ross Molony still on the comeback trail, Toner’s fitness is even more important.
Should Leinster try to get James Lowe into their
European team, that might require dropping Scott Fardy – something that is more likely to be risked if Toner and James Ryan are available to start.
“Dev is such a consistent performer,” Cullen said. “It is not only just his job, he makes other people look good by how he wins the ball and where he wins it. For Leinster, a lot of the attacks that get launched from a lineout or even from a restart, come from work he does. He is a smart player, he’s been around the block and has a ton of experience. He is going to be important for us, we hope, over the course of this run-in of, again we hope, some big games.”
Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw – also involved in Saturday’s warm-up, and Ross Byrne are expected to return to training this week, but it’s unclear if Sexton will be risked against the aggressive Glasgow defence on Saturday. Leinster lost Noel Reid and Kearney to injury against a physical Benetton side on
Saturday, but Cullen took plenty out of the surprisingly dramatic encounter.
“It was a good test for our guys, there’s a lot of experience not playing, and then you lose your lineout caller and your No 10 in the first half, so we had to move lads around, it’s a little bit tricky,” Cullen said.
“It was disappointing at the end but it’s a positive experience. We’ve used 55 players so far this season, and that means we can manage the group well, we’re all the time trying to manage the players.
“A lot of guys will come back into the mix next weekend, we’re another competitive match against Glasgow, they have a week off after the game so they will bring a lot of threats, pace, and that brutality that is part of their game.” Leinster trailed Benetton 13-6 at half time on Saturday and led 27-20 with five minutes to go. But the ultra physicality of the Italians got them level – with Ratuva Tavuyara ending a 29-phase attack with a try in the 82nd minute, that Tommaso Allan converted to tie the game.
Max Deegan was the man of the match, after his 29 tackles and 11 carries, and overall Cullen was happy to have his youthful backrow exposed to such a physical test. “They [back row] were up against a lot of big bodies there, there’s a ton of international experience in that Benetton pack,” said Cullen. “They all played in the Six Nations, while Scott [Penny] was in school this time last year...Max, Caelan...they’re adding layers to their game, it was a positive experience.”
LEINSTER: B Daly; F McFadden, C O’Brien, J Tomane, J Lowe; N Reid (Rep: C Frawley, 23), L McGrath (c) (Rep: H O’Sullivan, 76); J McGrath (Rep: P Dooley, 56), J Tracy (Rep: B Byrne, 56), A Porter (Rep: M Bent, 56), M Kearney (Rep: J Dunne, 37), S Fardy, M Deegan, S Penny (Rep: E Byrne, 75), C Doris.
Unused replacement: J O’Brien.
BENETTON: J Hayward; R Tavuyara, M Zanon (Rep: A Rizzi, 76), L Morisi (Rep: A Sgarbi, 50), M Ioane; T Allan (c), D Duvenage (Rep: T Tebaldi, 51); N Quaglio (Rep: D Appiah, 56), L Bigi (Rep: T Baravalle, 50), M Riccioni (Rep: S Ferrari), I Herbst (Rep: M Lazzaroni, 59), F Ruzza, S Negri (Rep: G Petinelli, 5-10, 66-80), A Steyn, T Halafihi.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)