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World Cup glory a tall order but Ireland are well prepared: Toner

 

New heights: Devin Toner in Dublin yesterday
New heights: Devin Toner in Dublin yesterday

By Cian Tracey

Before Devin Toner visited Japan for the first time when Ireland toured the Far East in 2017, he was warned that his towering 6ft 11in frame was likely to make him a big hit with the locals.

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It wasn't quite the case, but Toner still left Japan in no doubt that it is a special place.

Ireland are already almost two weeks into their pre-season as they get set to return to Japan for the small matter of the World Cup.

Toner was one of the most experienced players on that largely developmental summer tour and his experiences of the culture and everything that brings will be crucial over the coming months.

"I really enjoyed it as a country," Toner said at the announcement of Energia's five-year sponsorship of the men's and women's All-Ireland League.

"I suppose when we were there last time it was June, so I think it's going to be hotter this time. The weather is going to be a big factor, but I really enjoyed it as a country.

"People told me before I went over that they thought they would be enamoured by me, but I actually found it the complete opposite.

"They were really, really respectful and humble. They didn't really mention (my height) at all. They would just be saying please and thank you and wouldn't even mention it. It was as if they were scared of me or something!

"It was a really good culture change. When it comes to the rugby, I don't know if it really affects it that much. We are just going to prepare as well as we do for anything, because it's a huge tournament."

There has been no sense of easing the squad back into pre-season after what seemed like a pretty short break, but these two weeks are seen as crucial building blocks for what lies ahead.

"We are doing everything," Toner, who is nearing full fitness following a knee injury, explained.

"I was talking to (forwards coach) Simon (Easterby) and I asked 'when are we doing lineouts?' He was like, 'tomorrow'.

"I was like, 'on a Tuesday? Jeez!'

"We're doing everything, defence work, attack work. We're doing half-and-half, split into two groups. One half will do rugby. One half will do fitness. Then we stop and swap over."

Four years ago, Ireland fell at the quarter-final stage again, and while they were missing several key players, Toner is adamant that wasn't an excuse then and it won't be if it happens again.

"If you were missing people of that calibre from a team then it will make a difference," he said.

"I'm not going to say it isn't different not having them. It is always going to be different, but everyone should be able to front up."

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