Devin Toner said being back in the Ireland starting line-up for Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with England at Twickenham means the world to him following his omission from the 2019 World Cup squad.
Toner, 33, was promoted from the replacements bench to the starting second row on Friday after Iain Henderson was released from the matchday squad to attend the birth of his second child.
It completes the Leinster lock’s return to Test rugby under new head coach Andy Farrell after predecessor Joe Schmidt chose not to take Toner to Japan, instead selecting rookie Jean Kleyn alongside Henderson, James Ryan, and Tadhg Beirne as his second-row options.
Toner will win his 70th cap at Twickenham and after two appearances off the bench against Scotland and Wales in this 2020 Six Nations, he is set to make his first Ireland start since last August’s first World Cup warm-up game against Italy in Dublin.
“It means the world to me,” Toner said on Saturday following Ireland’s captain’s run training session at the 80,000-seat match venue. “If you had told me a couple of months ago that I’d be starting against England in Twickenham I probably wouldn’t have believed you so yeah, delighted to get the chance.
“Obviously Hendy was picked to start and he’s had a fantastic tournament so far and very happy for him on the birth of a second child, so he’ll be at home getting some sleep, I doubt it. But it means the world to me to be playing again.”
Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby praised the way Toner had bounced back from the disappointment of missing out on a World Cup appearance.
“Credit to Dev. It was probably the most difficult decision we had to make but he went back to Leinster and, credit to him, he just knuckled down, did what he does really well,” Easterby said.
I think it's always a bit of a crossroads in someone's career when that happens but Dev has said, 'You know what, it's happened but I'm going to make sure that it's difficult not to pick me come the Six Nations' and that's exactly what he did in his performances for Leinster both when we were at the World Cup and continued to do so.
"It's a big challenge for Dev and the rest of the pack tomorrow but in my time, I could think of all the games where, as a forward pack, we've been right in the mix and Dev has been involved in the majority of those performances.
"He knows that it's going to take a huge effort tomorrow for us to come out on the other side with a result but I think the work that he's put in with Leinster and in the time we've been together as a Six Nations squad has shown that he's fully committed to that.
"Maybe in his own mind he's making up for a bit of lost ground and credit to him for doing that."
Toner echoed Easterby’s comments by adding Ireland would have to put in a much better performance to beat England than the one which delivered a bonus-point home win against Wales last time out a fortnight ago.
“We're going to have to get everything right. From our point of view, it starts in the pack, it starts with lineout, it starts with ruck. We know they're a hugely physical team, and you can tell from the team that they've picked, with the two second rows on the bench and a very tall line-out.
"Obviously (George) Kruis is one of the best lineout operators in the world at the minute, so they're going to come after us in that area of the game and we're going to have to be screwed on.”