It was one of the biggest surprises Joe Schmidt could have landed on us yesterday. It's fair to say very few seen Devin Toner being a casualty in the final squad cut ahead of the World Cup. With the Irish lineout in trouble, surely we couldn't do without one of the premier lineout callers and jumpers in the world game?
While some of the reasons for Toner's exclusion due to recent form and a tough 2019 in terms of injuries have been laid out here, one pundit claims this has been on the cards for some time.
Writing in the Irish Times, former Leinster and Ulster coach Matt Williams is particularly critical of the decision, and suggests he was told by a member of the Irish team all the way back to the start of the year that Toner was in trouble with the current coach.
I’m totally dumbfounded at the exclusion of Dev Toner from the World Cup squad.
Last January a member of the Irish team told me that Dev was on the outside. I couldn’t believe it. When I asked why, I was answered with a shrug of the shoulders. “They want him out."
Given Toner had been a crucial part of Ireland's historic 2018, and had been outstanding in their win against the All Blacks just two months earlier, this is very hard to believe. However, ever since the Leinster lock picked up a serious ankle injury in the first game of the Six Nations against England, his 2019 has been too stop/start.
Williams cites his New Zealand performance in particular to laud the abilities of Toner.
I regard him as the most improved player in Irish rugby. The physicality in his performance against New Zealand in November 2018 was simply astonishing. While the New Zealand game can be regarded as ancient history, Dev’s ability as the best communicator and caller of lineouts in Ireland is much undervalued. This aspect of modern of rugby is totally misunderstood by those outside the game.
Williams says he is appalled by the apparent disregard for the importance of Toner's lineout genius.
Two weeks ago against England I watched Ireland’s lineout crumble. White jerseys bullied Ireland. Like a bad school playground, good players in green didn’t seem to have the moral courage to stand up to the bullies in white. I begged for Dev to return and not only call the correct lineouts for Ireland, but also to show the steel and grit required to drive the Irish set play that is so vital to the Irish attack.
In other words, run our lineout as he has done for years. This also means dealing with opposition teams in a forceful manner and using the aggression and wisdom he has picked up over the years.
Now it appears that the internal heave against Dev that I was told about in January has come to fruition.
Williams also criticises a "tired and weary" Joe Schmidt for the decision and questions the team dynamics of bringing a unfamiliar South African instead of an experienced and well liked Toner. You can read the full column in today's Irish Times here.