Belfast Telegraph

Leinster spring surprise by dropping Toner for massive showdown

 

By David Kelly

Leinster, who host Scarlets in a PRO12 semi-final tonight, continue to establish a benign democracy on the field by maintaining a ruthless dictatorship off it.

The culture of complacency that swept through this place last season has been transformed; then, reputations remained untouched and Leinster finished with nothing.

Now, nobody is immune.

Devin Toner has further to fall than most and the sky-scraping second-row has now found himself edged from his provincial starting line-up for a huge game, so soon after Joe Schmidt issued the same medicine during the Six Nations.

As Leo Cullen watched Saracens lift their second successive European title last weekend, and eyed the swathe of significant players who didn't even make the match-day 23, he and his brains trust spied enviously.

They saw what might have been but also what needs to be done.

And so a squad already denied the services of the multi-medalled Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney have made big calls, like preferring Adam Byrne ahead of Fergus McFadden and holding back Sean O'Brien. But Toner's exclusion tops the list.

Ostensibly, he picked up a knock after the loss at Ulster and didn't train much since then. But he is not injured. Like O'Brien, if he is fit enough to bench, he should be fit enough to start.

Leinster's future is predicated upon not holding on too tightly to their past. That is how champions are made. Form trumps all, and Toner's form is clearly not good enough for his coaches.

"If we had had a Champions Cup final, how would we spin into a six-day turnaround, for example?" said Cullen.

"You'd need to have that squad - look at Saracens at the weekend and you see the footage of some of their players who aren't in their match-day 23, some of the quality internationals they have, and that's what we're up against.

"So that's what we're trying to build towards, to have that level of depth.

"So I think it's really important that we're building in that direction and making it a competitive group so that when an experienced international comes back, they know they have to play well.

"If not, there's going to be someone snapping at their heels trying to get in the team and I think we're lucky that we had the opportunity to bring a lot of young guys through this season."

Scarlets are without injured Lions hooker Ken Owens as well as second-row Jake Ball.

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