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RBS 6 Nations: Ireland finally set for lift-off

By Niall Crozier

Beanpole lock Devin Toner has never faced a Welsh pack at international level. But the 6ft 10 ins (2.08m) Leinster second-row reckons he has gleaned sufficient experience as a result of having packed down against the same players in club colours to know what is coming on Saturday afternoon when Ireland host Wales in the RBS 6 Nations.

Drawing a parallel between the first and second weekends of 2014 championship action, he says: "I've not played much Six Nations – even for the Scottish game that was the first time I started against them.

"But you end up playing against the same players; you do see that having been familiar with all of them that it is quite settling and takes a bit of pressure off," Toner explains.

However, he recognises that for some reason those same men who play for the Welsh regions appear to be transformed when they pull on a red jersey emblazoned with the Prince of Wales' feathers.

"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," Toner admits.

Does he feel Ireland might replicate that 'Club Wales' thing?

"Yeah, you could say that," he muses.

"Because obviously we've had a lot of success with our provinces and if we can bring that into the international team that would be the ideal situation for everyone."

Having beaten Scotland, the Irish boys' mood is good going into Saturday's match. That, too, is helping Toner as he prepares to face Wales for the first time.

"I've never played against them before but the buzz in the camp is quite positive, especially after a good start," he reveals.

There is a lot of respect for this Welsh team, however, a fact Toner underlines by saying: "Looking at some of the video they're a well oiled team and if I do get a chance I will relish it. They've proved they're such a good team over the last few years."

Having just heard the Wales team for this weekend's clash of the Celtic cousins, Toner knew Luke Charteris was out and Gethin Jenkins (pictured) is back.

In the absence of Charteris, NG Dragons' Andrew Coombs starts, while Jenkins' return sees Bath's Paul James relegated to the bench.

"I just saw that before I came down here," Toner comments.

Now, Coombs is 6ft 4ins (1.93m) whereas Charteris is 6ft 11 ins (2.06m). But Toner feels that what Coombs lacks in height, he makes up for elsewhere.

"He's very similar to (Tim) Swinson (of Scotland). He's a very aggressive player who likes to get his hands on the ball.

"Charteris might have the edge in the line-out, but Coombs is very able and quite a good player," he says.

And then there is the Alun-Wyn Jones factor.

The man who, in the absence of Sam Warburton, captained last summer's Lions in the last of the three Tests, is an awesome player.

"Yeah, 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," is Toner's description of the 6ft 5ins (1.95m) Ospreys icon.

"I think our focus will be getting in there early and trying to get rid of him. Getting him out of the maul is the best thing to do."

If, as Ireland continue to insist will be the case, captain Paul O'Connell is fit to resume after missing the Scotland game with a chest infection, Dan Tuohy looks like being the man to miss out.

Despite the Ulster player's outstanding performance last weekend, Toner's appearance at the Carton House media session implied that he, not Tuohy, will start.

Reflecting on having had to shoulder additional responsibility last weekend when O'Connell was withdrawn on the morning of the match, Toner says: "I just walked in and Plum (forwards coach John Plumtree) said to me, '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.

"There's a lot less pressure when you're not calling. But I've done it before. I've done it so many times for Leinster and I've done it for Ireland as well.

"I kind of relished it a bit, 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 anyone can step up to the mark.

"I think we've got the guts of 10 caps each, I'm not sure. But me and Dan have played together since we played under-21s together. We played 'A' together.

"I get on with Dan very well. And we've obviously trained for the last two weeks together so it was no hassle to be honest," he adds.

'Job to be done, so let's just get on with it' is Toner's very matter of fact approach. Bring on Wales, then.

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