The compliments have been coming back and forth across the Irish Sea this week. But all that will stop come 3pm this afternoon as Ireland and England knuckle down for their eagerly-awaited RBS 6 Nations showdown.
Devin Toner has little experience of playing England – last year’s 13-10 defeat was his first cap against them – but he has a vital presence in the current Irish pack, missing just six minutes of the 2014 title-winning campaign.
The England camp have already spoken about trying to disrupt the lineouts of the 6ft 10in giant Toner and captain Paul O’Connell, with George Kruis admitting: “(Toner) will be a good five or six inches above us, including arms and hands. There are ways to combat it.
“As much as getting up in the air, there is verbal pressure and lots of other different components – movement, timing of the lift and accuracy of the throw – that you have to get right. O’Connell is a talisman. We will be looking to disrupt.”
England’s starting second row, Kruis and Dave Attwood, may be inexperienced at this level – they only have 10 Test starts between them, and none against Ireland – but Toner says talk of them being a second string pairing is wide of the mark.
Although Kruis and Attwood have profited from some untimely injuries to the likes of Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury, they have proven to be more than able deputies in the opening two rounds of the 2015 Championship.
“I’ve heard it before, people are saying it’s not their first-choice locks. But I think Attwood and Kruis have done fantastically well in the first two games. I think they’re two very good players,” admitted Toner.
“They’re very physical and Attwood has got a knack of getting over the gain-line when he gets on the ball, he’s been controlling that lineout very well so far. I think their set piece and lineout has gone really well, so I don’t see it as a negative (for England), to be honest.”
Braced for a big battle up front, the Meath man added: “This week we have been doing a lot of scrummaging and a lot of mauling because that’s obviously one of the areas of the game they want to get on top of us. It was harder for the front row, but it’s hard for the second row as well having to push behind them. The intensity has gone up this week because we know it’s such an important test.
“I think we’ve lost four in-a-row (to England) now, this could be five. No one wants that and going into the game, we’re going to have to really front up against them.”
It will be a big day for one player in particular, as Jordi Murphy slots in for the injured Jamie Heaslip (back) at number 8 for what will be his second RBS 6 Nations start – and first at the Aviva Stadium.
Toner is full of praise for his young Leinster colleague, saying: “Jordi is a very intelligent footballer, he runs a lot of very good lines and he does the little things right. I think he’s a very good ball carrier, he always gets over the gain-line. So I think if he brings that to his game, it’ll be positive this weekend.
“No player is like for like, are they? Every player has their own little nicks and nacks. Jordi is going to try and implement his own game-plan. I suppose he’s picked for a reason and the coaches have a lot of confidence in him. He’s not the exact same as Jamie, and they have very different effects around the game, but I think he’ll try and stamp his own game on it.”
Murphy’s opposite number, Billy Vunipola, was in try-scoring form for England against Italy last time out and just as they did with France’s Mathieu Bastareaud a fortnight ago, Ireland will have to negate the obvious big ball-carrying threat of the powerful Vunipola.
“Vunipola is a big unit and he’s very powerful in the legs and upper body. If you look at any team, when they get to five metres out they’re always going to have something up their sleeve to go around the front or around the back. But we’re going to have to have our wits about us around that time. One of the main things we have to do is try to get our physicality up in that area of the field.
“I think it’s just physicality and trying to tackle him (Vunipola) low. If you go up high on him, I think you know he’s got a massively strong upper body. If you go low and early, I think you might be able to chop him down,” added Toner.