HOW PERCEPTIONS OF a player can shift so swiftly.
It is not long since Devin Toner was widely accepted as a player who might not ever truly make the grade as an international player, or even as a first-choice Leinster second row.
The 6ft 10ins Meath man has forced every one of his doubters to re-think in the last year though, accelerating his improvement to the extent that he was one of the premier locks in the 2014 Six Nations.
Suddenly those awkward limbs were being used more efficiently at the breakdown, his tackles around the fringes of rucks making more of an impact and his work rate allowing him to complete all but six minutes of the championship success under Joe Schmidt.
Having played such an integral part for Ireland in recent months, Toner is now enthused by the prospect of being back in Leinster colours against Munster tomorrow.
Obviously the fellas who started in the Six Nations got the week off after. From a personal point of view, I feel pretty refreshed and rejuvenated. It’s always refreshing to come back into camp and see the lads who you haven’t seen for a while, get to know the systems, getting back to what you know.
“This is the first year I played all the games in the Six Nations, so it was really good getting back to the lads and getting back to what you know.”
There is that pleasure in the familiarity of those around him at Leinster, but this weekend there will also be a rivalry bred from the same concept. Lining up opposite Toner for Munster is likely to be Paul O’Connell, his locking partner with Ireland.
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The 27-year-old has a finer understanding of how O’Connell operates following the Six Nations, but admits that could also work the opposite way in Dublin tomorrow evening.
“I suppose a little bit, but I suppose it’s a bit of a double-edged sword because he knows me better as well. I’ve seen how he works, I’ve learned a lot off him because he’s a world-class player. Obviously [I know] the little things [he does], but he knows me as well.”
Toner approaches this game in an ideal place mentally, assured by his own ability to compete and excel in high-level surroundings, but equally with an understanding that an overflow of emotional energy can result in a loss of precision.
“You could say confidence is quite high personally, from playing well. It is obviously good having that confidence coming into the tail-end of the season and these massive games. I think it is going to stand to me.
You could get a bit over emotional. The main thing about these games is being clinical and being accurate and getting your roles right. That is the first job you have to do. Obviously you have to bring emotion into it but there is a chance you can be too emotional and a bit too riled up.”
There has been much melodrama in the build-up to this encounter, but the increasingly mature Toner has allowed it to fly over his lofty head. Comfortable in his skin and confident in his mental preparation process, Toner is ready to deliver the goods for Leinster.
“I wouldn’t say it’s personal. It’s quite obvious what a massive game it is and Leinster – Munster is huge every time; obviously you want to get on top every time. Every player knows it’s going to be hugely physical, hugely intense.”