Toner thrilled with opportunity to keep on keeping on with Leinster

Secondrow admits he was looking at all his options before being offered a one-year deal

When Devin Toner, Michael Bent and Scott Fardy lifted the Pro 14 trophy together after Leinster's win over Munster five weeks ago, it looked for all the world that the trio were either retiring or moving on at the end of the season. Bent and Fardy have since confirmed as much, whereupon it was announced that Toner had agreed a one-year deal to extend his stay to a 16th season.

It transpires that province and player were not kidding us, for Toner thought he was on his way as well.

“I pretty much thought I was going as well, to be honest. And then thankfully it got sorted out. I’m not going to go too much into the ins and outs of it but I’m obviously happy with where it ended up.”

Far from a mind to retire, the 34-year-old also revealed he would have moved elsewhere.


“Retirement was never going to be on the cards, no, because I feel really good in my body, I think I’ve been playing pretty well this year. I was going to be doing something, but thankfully it just all sorted itself out here.

“I was looking at all options, to be honest, and I was taking everything under advisement. But when it came down to it I have a young family here and obviously Leinster is my home, they’ve done so much for me over the years and to be able to play here with crowds as well was a huge factor.”

The fire still burns too, perhaps partly because he was an unused sub in the 2009 Heineken Cup final, and played three and 22 minutes as a replacement in the 2011 and 2012 deciders, before playing the full 80 in Bilbao three seasons ago.

“I think I have more to offer, and we’re still winning, so I want to finish my career with as many medals in my back pocket as I can and this is a great environment to do it. I think our drive, our desire for that fifth star is huge and I think it’s going to be huge obviously this weekend. But as I said, I think there’s more in me, to be honest.”

While being a one-club man is all well and good, Toner says he’ll re-evaluate again in a year’s time.

“If the body’s still feeling well I will obviously see what all the options are. I’m never going to rule out playing somewhere else.

“I look at the likes of Donnacha Ryan and how well he’s done in France and how well respected he is over there and he’s obviously one or two years older than me.

“Two years older, is he?” said Toner with a laugh when this was pointed out to him. “You take a look at Rob [Kearney] as well. Everyone thought Rob was going to be a one-club man and he’s having the time of his life over in Australia.

“It’s obviously a very good accolade to be a one-club man but I wouldn’t say it’s the be all and end all.

Toner, Leinster’s most capped player of all time, played the first of his 80 Champions Cup games against Edinburgh in October 2008, Jono Gibbes’s first season there as forwards coach. The former All Black was a huge influence.

“Whatever team he’s with, he brings a hard edge to it because he was obviously a fantastic player himself, he knows what it was like to play at such a high level and he got involved in training a lot more than other forwards coaches would.

“He was always holding a bag and would always put an extra bit of weight behind the bag if you were hitting it.

“Lineout-wise he was very good, he put a lot of analysis in and he learned a lot on the way, but the main thing was his mindset and how a forward pack should work and should go about its business.”

In his 13th European campaign, as shown in the wins over Munster and Exeter, Toner’s continuing importance is underlined again this week. La Rochelle’s ferocious, Gibbes-inspired lineout and maul defence, with Uini Atonio and Will Skelton as wrecking balls, ensures Toner’s ball-winning expertise will quite likely mean his inclusion in the engine room again.

“I think it’s one of the biggest tests that we’re going to have as a pack this year. Their front five is massive and their backrow is explosive, dynamic. They’re smart, they’ve got good jumpers in the lineout, and obviously in the scrum when you’ve got Atonio and Skelton on the same tighthead side they’re able to lock it out pretty well. They’ve got about 300 kilos between them.

“You can see sometimes in ‘five-mans’ they put him [Skelton] out into the backline and he hits it up, and other times he’s in the lineout lifting and making a mess of mauls. He’s a great destructor of mauls, so as I said, it’s going to be one of the biggest tests this year for us.”