Devin Toner is the glue that holds Ireland together, according to former Irish international Mike McCarthy.
The London-born lock rated Toner as Ireland's best second-rower on Friday’s OTB AM, somewhat surprisingly considering James Ryan’s performances since bursting onto the scene. While McCarthy did say that Ryan doesn’t really have any weaknesses in his game, Toner’s importance to the team can’t be overlooked.
"He is the concrete, the cement, the foundations in that Irish side that allows everyone to play well," McCarthy commented.
"You always come out of the game thinking, jeez, it really shows what’s missing when Dev isn’t playing."
Toner doesn’t bring the same attacking intensity to a game that the likes of Ryan, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne bring, yet what he lacks in pure power he makes up for in his work-rate and set-piece play.
"I think Dev would be the first to say he’s not a power athlete," McCarthy clarified.
"So when you’re looking at those players it's probably very tempting to say I’d love to have those players in my team in terms of their carrying and ability to get over the game-line… and for some reason it just doesn’t quite gel.
"I’m not sure of the exact science behind it, but you just seem to need Dev there to gel those guys together."
McCarthy also had high praise for Ireland’s next two second-rowers on his own personal pecking order, Henderson and Beirne.
"We know what Hendy brings when he’s fit and Tadhg Beirne has been a revelation," the former Leinster man stated.
"He’s carried that form from Scarlets across to Munster, he brings a real poach threat to the breakdown.
"Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne, they both can cover back row obviously, so when you’re going to a World Cup they’re very valuable players."
While Beirne has a good all-round game, McCarthy did say that his size may work as a factor against him, saying himself that he himself “felt pretty small” when he was playing internationally rugby, despite standing at an impressive 6ft 5.
Written by Eoin Harte.