There wasn’t a hint of panic when Devin Toner was suddenly called upon to organise Ireland’s line-out strategy in Sunday’s RBS Six Nations clash with Scotland.
No panic even when Toner, making his first championship start, was told skipper Paul O’Connell was out, and that he would be partnered in the second row by an equally inexperienced Dan Tuohy. He didn’t even consult the captain who was confined to bed with a chest infection.
Toner found out about his additional responsibilities when he walked into breakfast on Sunday morning: “I just walked in and Plum (forwards coach John Plumtree) said: ‘Paul’s out, you’re calling’. I was like – ‘okay’.
“It obviously puts a lot more pressure on because you’re calling the line-outs and everything is on you. But I have done it so many times for Leinster and for Ireland as well.
“I kind of relished it, being able to control it. And I think it stood to us that we had a lot of strength in depth because Dan came in and had a class game.
“It shows that we’ve got the players to step up to the mark.
Although between them the players had previously won just 17 caps, Toner had no doubts that the partnership would thrive.
“Dan and I have played together since Under 21s. We played ‘A’ together as well, partnered one another a lot and we get on very well. We’ve obviously trained for the last two weeks together so it was no hassle.”
Even though there was obviously a review of the game, Toner said it was short and, overall, positive. “Yeah, it was good, quite positive but we only looked back to go forward, we didn’t look at the Scotland game a lot, our main focus was about the visit of Wales to Dublin on saturday.”
That focus will likely have strongly featured areas of work required from the pack, and on Ireland’s grand plan to fulfil forwards coach John Plumtree’s dream of building a world class unit.
Toner is well aware a top drawer performance will be required to see off a team chasing a third successive RBS Six Nations title.
Welsh teams have fared poorly over the years in the Heineken Cup, but players who have under-performed for club have consistently punched above their weight in the national colours and it’s something that baffles Toner.
“I don’t know whether they have a different mindset going into a national team. I don’t know any of them personally because I was never on any of the Lions teams or anything; I’m not sure what it is really.”
Yet, while describing Warren Gatland’s outfit as ‘a well oiled machine’, Toner is comfortable to face the challenge.
“It’s my first time playing against Wales, but it was the same against Scotland.”
You end up playing against the same players (who feature in the Rabo and Heineken Cup), so being familiar with playing against them takes a bit of pressure off.”
But the challenge will still be huge and Toner says the second row change forced on Wales – Andrew Coombs coming in for the injured Luke Charteris — won’t lessen the threat.
“What Coombs lacks in height for the lineouts he makes up for it in other ways, he’s a very aggressive player who loves to get his hands on the ball.”
And Toner knows Ireland will have to be at their best to keep Alun Wyn Jones under control: “I’ve played against him a fair bit. He’s quite a menace in mauls. He likes to disrupt mauls and get in there and make a nuisance of himself. I think our focus will be getting in there early and trying to get rid of him (out of the mauls).”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved