When Devin Toner locks horns with the Australia pack on Saturday, he will have a very good idea of what their new head coach has been telling them during the build-up to the Wallabies’ clash with Ireland.
Toner, 28, has a lot to thank Michael Cheika for. He was the coach who gave the lock his Leinster debut in 2006, ensured he added physicality to his 6ft 10ins frame and who also applied the sort of tough love that has earned the respect of a now established Test forward.
Not that the kid from Castleknock College particularly enjoyed being on the end of Cheika’s double-barrel blasts.
“If you were late for a meeting or didn’t get your line right or something, you’d get the hairdryer treatment,” Toner recalled.
“I just sat there and took it. I don’t think it crossed my mind to talk to him. I wouldn’t talk back to him because you know yourself you’re doing something wrong. He was doing it for a reason, not just for the sake of it. You are going to learn from it.
“I was coming out of the Academy, I was young, in the development squad, like I’m not going to say lads were scared of him but he’s a coach that demands respect and as a young lad, you’d respect him hugely.
“As a young player, it’s 100% what he had for you, tough love. The first couple of meetings you miss, you get fecking screamed at, but sure I think you adjust pretty quickly when that approach is taken.
“It’s kinda like the same with Joe (Schmidt). Young lads in the squad, they need to know their stuff and if they don’t know it, obviously...”
The respect for Cheika remains, even as the Wallabies coach plots to burst Ireland’s bubble following a run of eight wins in nine games under Schmidt since last November’s defeats to Australia and New Zealand which have brought the Six Nations title and a morale-boosting win over South Africa a fortnight ago.
“He gave me my debut. I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s been a really successful coach, with Leinster, and in Australia as well. He really drives on the discipline and everything in the squad. It’s been well documented how he turned Leinster around and got them back on track.
His character is quite hard edged, but he knows his stuff as well.
“It is just the way he commands respect. One of the massive things is that he drills the discipline in the squad and being disciplined in everything you do, being on time, your dress code.
“These are things brought into a squad and that’s what he does. He commands respect.”
Toner’s assessment of the similarities between Cheika and Schmidt stretches beyond the respect they both command from their players. They also know how to achieve success and the Leinster lock’s presence in a winning national side, appearing in all 12 of the games his former provincial boss Schmidt has overseen, starting 10 of them, has reaped dividends for them both.
“The confidence you get from a coach picking you feeds into you playing well. It has helped me last year and this year; being able to have the coach rely on you.”
Schmidt will be looking to Toner and all the forwards in the Paul O’Connell-led pack to build on the performance they put in to help beat South Africa 29-15 two weeks ago although Toner recognises the Wallabies are a different proposition to the Springboks.
“They’ve got an unpredictability,” he said of the Australians.
“They’ve got a hugely talented backline that they can pull out of anywhere. We’re really going to have to get that same mindset that we had against South Africa to get off the line, get in their faces and shut down all the threats that they have in the backline.”
The wins over South Africa and Georgia present Ireland with an opportunity to complete an unbeaten November for the first time in eight years but more importantly Toner wants to avoid the feeling that beating the Boks will have meant nothing if they fail to defeat Australia.
“It’s hugely important. Obviously we said before we were just going to take it one game at a time, but the most important thing after that performance against South Africa is that there’s no point coming out and playing well against the South Africans but then falling by the wayside against Australia.
“That’s what our focus is — to reach that standard again.”
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