Toner’s big chance to walk tall for Ireland against Samoa
Irish giant Devin Toner will scale new heights on Saturday afternoon when he earns his first full international cap against Samoa.
The 24-year-old lock — 6ft 10ins tall and the man who calls the shots in the Leinster line-out — is one of 11 changes, one of them positional, from the side which went down 23-21 to South Africa.
Thrilled at having made the breakthrough Toner said: “I’m delighted, over the moon. I’m just excited now and can’t wait for the game. The kick-off can’t come quick enough.
“I was told (I was in the side) yesterday when the team was announced (to the players). I wasn’t told before so it was a bit of a shock when I was called out.
“I’ve been involved in squads before so you’re always hoping to be called,” he admitted.
Toner also paid tribute to two of his provincial colleagues for the part they have played in his development.
“Mal (O’Kelly) and Leo (Cullen) have both had a great influence over me since I got called up into the senior squad. I’ve just been learning from them,” he said.
Coach Declan Kidney revealed that as in the case at provincial level the big Leinster lock will call the throws on Saturday against the Samoans when he partners Munster’s Donncha O’Callaghan, the only front five survivor following last weekend’s line-out shambles.
Captain Brian O’Driscoll, advised Leinster colleague Toner to play his normal game and stick to what had earned him his first cap.
“It’s the same size pitch and you’re playing with and against the same number of players as any other match,” said O’Driscoll who will be winning his 105th cap on Saturday.
Regarding the much-changed starting team coach Kidney recalled that for the match against South Africa his problem had been more about whom to omit than whom to include.
He said there had been “tight calls” once again for this weekend’s Aviva Stadium clash with opponents currently ranked 11th in world rugby. Ireland are 6th.
“We talk about having a good squad and sometimes we have to back that up. I believe we have a good squad and that’s why we’ve picked this team. It’s to show faith in them,” Kidney said.
“Some of the guys who were unlucky to be left out last week are getting their run now.
“We’ve tried to mix experience with youth in getting the right type of team to face the challenge Samoa will present.”
Highlighting the need for strength in depth and his belief in the benefits of competition for places, Kidney continued: “A couple of years ago we had a bit of luck in winning things when we didn’t have a whole lot of injuries.
“I think you try and control the things you can and that’s building a squad so that if you do pick up a couple of bangs and knocks you can still go into a game knowing that if you play to your ability then you’ll have a good chance of winning the match.”
His decisions include switching Luke Fitzgerald from the wing to full-back, with Ulster’s Andrew Trimble getting the number 11 jersey.
The coach said: “I just thought this was an opportunity to give him (Fitzgerald) a go there. I wouldn’t pick him if I didn’t think he could do a good job there.
“Andrew was unlucky last week so now he gets his chance.”
Two more Ulstermen who get their chances are Paddy Wallace and Tom Court. Wallace partners O’Driscoll in midfield while Court is named on the loosehead side of a front row completed by Connacht hooker Sean Cronin and veteran Munster tighthead John Hayes who wins his 103rd cap.
No 8 Jamie Heaslip is the only back row forward retained, with Denis Leamy and Sean O’Brien packing down at six and seven respectively.
Ospreys’ Tommy Bowe continues on the right wing, with Munster half-back partners Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara completing the line-up.
The replacements will be named later in the week.