Ireland second row Devin Toner is focused on getting a result against Scotland firstly as the RBS 6 Nations Championship prepares for a grandstand finish on Saturday.
Only points scoring difference separates England, Ireland and Wales at the top of the table heading into the final weekend, while France, in fourth place, still have a slim mathematical chance of being crowned champions – albeit that they are relying on both Ireland and Wales to lose their games earlier on in the day.
Joe Schmidt’s men will have to show improved discipline in defence against Scotland, having given Wales a head-start, while forwards coach Simon Easterby has demanded a better return from the lineout after four lost throws in Cardiff.
Following a week of reviews and work on the training pitch, Devin Toner, a vital cog in the Irish lineout, feels they are in a good position to right the wrongs of last week.
“Obviously we’ve put a lot of work into this week. We all know we let our standards slip last weekend. Losing four (lineouts) is unheard of. We can’t win a game (when) losing four lineouts so we’ve put a lot of work into it this week,” admitted the Leinster lock.
“Hopefully it will be alright. It was a few missed throws and a few missed calls (last Saturday). The standards slipped. There is not a huge amount to set right but we did a bit on it this week to rectify it.
“A lot of teams stay down (when you do a 13-man lineout), a lot of teams go up. We were not expecting them (Wales) to go up. We brought the backs in, they didn’t. It’s hard to judge. Some of (the lineout issues) were the throws. Some were the calls, but it is something we have to get by and try to rectify this week.”
The only change in the pack for Saturday’s clash with Scotland is the return of loosehead prop Cian Healy in place of Jack McGrath. Ireland will hope to get the most out of Healy’s powerful and dynamic ball carrying ability, while he is a key figure at scrum time and as a lineout lifter.
The injury which saw the 50-times capped prop tear his hamstring from the bone is behind him says Toner, who watched on as his Leinster colleague fought his way back to fitness following months of rehab in the gym.
It is the same sort of resilience which typified Luke Fitzgerald’s fight to get back into the international reckoning after an injury-plagued spell. Fitzgerald’s reward is a spot on the left wing against the Scots, marking his first Test start since August 2011.
Toner said Ireland’s 2013 loss to Scotland at Murrayfield was ‘a dark day’, as they failed to profit from a dominant first half display and four Greig Laidlaw penalties guided the hosts to a 12-8 victory.
Thrown into the mix for Saturday’s rematch are the many Championship permutations. However, despite the importance of scoring difference in this particular title race, Toner insisted that Ireland cannot go in thinking about racking up the points.
“First and foremost we’ve got to get the win. If we don’t get the win, we are not in with a chance at all. The main focus for us is trying to get the win. It is a hard place to go and get a result. What comes, comes and the most important thing for us is the performance. We are just focusing on the performance. We can’t really look at points difference at all.
“I was on the bench for that (game two years ago) and that was a pretty dark day. Hopefully we don’t do that this week. Last week we all know our standards slipped and we are just glad we have another week to rectify that. We are happy that performance didn’t happen at the end of the Six Nations. We have a week after to rectify it. We’re glad we can go out and right the wrongs.”
As winless Scotland fight to avoid the Wooden Spoon, they are sure to be up for the battle. They led against England before going down at Twickenham last weekend and prior to that they lost right at the death to a penalty try against Italy.
Wales and France also beat the Scots by three and seven points respectively, but certainly Vern Cotter’s side have looked threatening in attack. The fear from an Irish viewpoint is that Scotland have nothing to lose, and therefore will be let off the leash in Edinburgh.
Toner added: “Scotland haven’t won a game and they’re going to be coming all guns blazing, to be honest. They are at home, they’re a very proud nation at Murrayfield. We’re going to be up against it as they’ll come out raring to go.
“If you look through their team, they have a huge amount of talent, a huge amount of depth and the back-three are fairly fast, and there’s experience all through the team. The core of the team is Glasgow and they have been doing fantastically well over the last two or three seasons. We are under no illusions about what we’re going to have coming up against us.”