THE BLOOD HAD barely stopped flowing from Leo Cullen’s nose when Jamie Heaslip reminded the Leinster squad of their goals on Sunday.
48 hours later, relief is still the overriding emotion. Any sense of elation is suppressed, only manifesting itself in individual players’ smiles or some good-natured banter between Sean Cronin and Devin Toner.
They may end up relying on eachother’s shove, throw and leap this coming Saturday, so the crowing from Cronin as Toner was forced to sit down to accommodate the television crews was a good sign.
‘You’d need him to lie down’ laughed the hooker aloud, happy in his five feet 11 inch frame.
Nobody was joking after the final whistle in Stade Chaban Delmas, instead there was disappointment at having not pieced together an 80 minute performance.
“A lot of the feeling was relief after the game.” Says Toner, “Jamie Heaslip talked and he was saying that; ‘nothing’s done yet. It was a semi-final, we’ve got a final to play yet.’ We’ve been there before so we have a bit of experience, but everyone has their mind focused on one job and that’s winning it.”
The moment when all Leinster hearts were wedged in mouths did not overly concern Cronin. The former Connacht man had a front row seat, standing over Wesley Fofana when he had dived over the line for what everyone thought or feared was the winning score.
“I was on the guard of the ruck, I thought he had got it down. I knew there was some time left on the clock for an opportunity to have one last attack.”
The group as a whole has moved on. Isaac Boss is the only new injury concern leading into this Saturday’s trip to face the lowly Dragons in their last game of the season.
A game which might have been considered a dead rubber is gifted extra importance by presenting fringe players with the last chance to play their way to Twickenham.
“This is kind of an audition for fellas to put their put forward and cause a few headaches,”adds Cronin. “That’s the way I look at it and there’s no doubt there is other fellas in the squad that are looking at it that way aswell.”
Toner is another of that group. An Irish international whose stock appeared to be well on the rise after stepping from the shadow of Nathan Hines. To make inroads into the first team, Toner now needs to displace one of the greatest athletes ever to touch an oval ball.
Rather than moan about being pushed slightly back down the pecking order, the 25-year-old wants to focus on the positives. Having a World Cup winner to observe day in, day out can be nothing but valuable. So what has he learned from Brad Thorn?
“To be a hard bastard.”
It wouldn’t have been funny if it wasn’t true, once the laughter subsides Toner continues the praise for the man 12 years his senior, this time with a straight face:
“He’s one of the best professionals I’ve ever seen. I’d learn a lot from the extras he does, how he keeps himself fit. He’s got a good regime and he keeps himself in top nick.”
Toner is likely to start in Wales this Saturday behind Cronin and alongside Damian Browne. To continue that first team presence into the Pro12 semi-final and the big day in Twickenham he has a simple plan to earn selection, the same thing he’s been doing all season:
“Just work on the things I have been all year: ball carrying, getting down low, making an impact -using my weight in the contact areas. But before any of that stuff, I have to nail down line-out and scrum. Do the good things well, do the things I’ve been doing all season and hopefully Joe will see it.”