ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON, following Ireland’s captain’s run at the Stade de France, forwards coach John Plumtree said that his pack had the chance to move from being simply ‘good’ to being ‘great’.
The clinching factor would be a win in Paris, the out-muscling of a powerful, heavy French unit. While it remains arguable whether or not this is indeed a great Irish pack, the improvements under John Plumtree have been clear.
The scrum has performed effectively, even aggressively, the line-out has functioned superbly and the maul has been a true strength. Second row Devin Toner admits there is satisfaction at the work done so far, while pointing out that it is for others to judge the Irish pack’s real value.
However, the 6ft 11ins lock did agree that overcoming les Bleus‘ forwards last night at the Stade de France was a job well done.
“You can see from their team that they’re a massive squad and massive, massive players. You could tell that at the breakdown; they were quite rough over the ball and good at getting in on it.
But the pack did pretty well, our set-piece did well. Scrum and line-out was pretty good apart from one ball in the line-out. It’s been quite pleasing how we went over the whole tournament.”
Plumtree has been repeatedly and deservedly singled out for praise during this Six Nations campaign, with his hard-nosed, South African-influence mindset having brought a new edge to the Irish pack.
Toner has particularly appreciated what ‘Plum’ has introduced in terms of maul enthusiasm.
“He’s influenced us a lot in this campaign. He came in and said he wants us to be a great pack, by mauling pretty much. We did that well in the first couple of games.
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“We haven’t been able to score from it in the last couple of games, but that just comes down to opportunity. We’ve put a lot of work into our line-out and our maul, just getting to the right places.
“Plum has brought a renewed sense about the maul I suppose and everyone bought into it. If we see our out-half kicking to the corner, we want to get excited about the maul. That’s the main thing we were talking about.”
It has been a hugely impressive competition from Toner on a personal level too, and despite the many outside doubts as to his quality over the last number of years, the Meath man “always thought I’ve been able to step up to the mark.”
Toner agrees that “I’ve played well” for Ireland over the last seven weeks, but stresses that he needs to keep growing as a player. Having completed almost every single minute of the five games [he was subbed off in the 73rd minute against Scotland], the towering lock says he has enjoyed having Plumtree’s trust.
The more 80 minutes you play, the more you’re used to it, I suppose. As a team, we know our fitness is second to none. I think that really stood to us over the tournament, kind of grinding teams down to get the wins.
“Being able to play will always stand to you as well. When I saw Hendy [Iain Henderson] coming on for Pete [O'Mahony], I thought ‘that’s another 80 minutes for me, so that’s grand!’”
Toner has tasted success with Leinster on several occasions before, but this is a maiden international medal for the 15-times capped second row. He explains that the feelings are similar, although of a grander magnitude with Ireland.
“It’s not very different to be honest, but on a bigger scale it’s pretty cool because you’re not just with your Leinster teammates, you’re with all of your Ireland teammates. It’s a pretty cool feeling alright.”