Laid-back Toner still hitting the heights

Devin Toner may reach for the sky but horizontal seems to be the default mode.

Ireland v Argentina - Guinness Series

Saturday: Aviva Stadium, 5.30pm

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

TV: RTE Two

Bet: Ireland 1/7 Argentina 9/2 Draw 30/1

Quietly spoken, polite, and as unassuming as a man standing mere inches shy of seven-foot tall can be, there is no hint of any rising angst or even annoyance as he is prodded about his easygoing personality. He is all Bruce Banner, no Incredible Hulk.

You don’t seem angry, Devin, so how do you get up for games?

“I’d like to think from my demeanour I keep quite calm on the pitch as well. I need to be when calling lineouts, trying to think about the game-plan and moves, what we’re going to do.

“I wouldn’t say I go from zero to 60, I just get on with it. I’ve never been red-carded, I’ve been yellow-carded two or three times for maybe pulling down a maul.”

Ever a card for Ireland?

“No, never for Ireland.”

That’s a negative, surely? Nathan Hines always got stuck in.

“Why do you want that? We don’t want to be yellow-carded, we’d have 14 on the pitch.”

Do you ever get angry?

“Of course you do.”

What triggers it?

“I don’t know, in mauls and people coming in the side — grabbing you off the ball during a ruck and trying to stop you getting around the corner. That sort of stuff. Niggly stuff.”

Enter Argentina. Nobody does niggle like Argentina. Not traditionally anyway, and plenty of Irish players have first-hand experience of it in the last 20 or so years. Toner? He will stretch as far to admit to an element of “needle” with the Pumas, but stops well short of “bad blood”.

He is wrong about his disciplinary record, by the way. According to Leinster’s figures he has been sin-binned half-a-dozen times, but it’s still not a bad record for a guy whose job it is to frequent all sorts of tough neighbourhoods with club and country.

He is 13 seasons on the road now, well over the border into his 30s, and if he starts Saturday’s game, it will be his third straight start this November and a long way from the second-half of last season, when Leo Cullen and Joe Schmidt named him on the bench for some key games.

The sense of an elder statesman has been heightened by the loss to France of Donnacha Ryan during the summer and Toner admits to looking over his shoulder at the sight of Kieran Treadwell and James Ryan making up ground.

Iain Henderson called lineouts with the Lions last June, too.

“You’re always thinking about (the future). I’m 31 now, 32 next June and seeing these young lads coming up... James Ryan is 21-years-old and he’s hugely strong, hugely fast.

“But everyone thinks about that, you know? You have one bad game and you think you’re done, one good game and you’re top of the world.”

He’s finding it easier to hit the heights this season. Weighing in at 123 kgs last term, he committed to the drudgery of early mornings on the watt bike to shave eight kilos from his frame. Most of that was fat.

It’s a loss that has added up to greater mobility around the park and a quicker elevation when fielding darts from touch. All of which bodes well for a man who has been selected more times than any other by Schmidt.

And 31 is no time for thoughts of pasture when you are a lock. Hines and Brad Thorn, both former Leinster players, have shown that second rows can push on towards their 40th birthdays and still stand tall with the new kids on the block.

Facing Toner this weekend in Ballsbridge will be a likely cohort of youngish Puma locks — Guido Petti (23), Tomas Lavanini (24), and Matias Alemanno (25) — but one with over 100 caps to their collective names.

“They’re quite young, but they’re already quite experienced. They’re bruisers, they love chop-tackling and going low. They love being physical, their set-piece is strong, and their lineout especially.

“They like doing dummy-mauls and breaking out. (Augustin) Creevy is a really experienced player there, he’s niggly. Pretty much all of them, they love the tight stuff. They love picking and going.”

Plenty of scope for needle there, you would think.

Even for Toner.

Ireland v Argentina



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