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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Michael Scully

Tom O'Toole's high praise for Andy Farrell: 'We get the best of both worlds'

Andy Farrell made the decision to stick by Tom O'Toole and that gamble paid off in the triumphant Grand Slam championship campaign.

There were times when tighthead O'Toole hasn't been picked by Ulster but he has remained a feature of Ireland camps since early in Farrell's reign - he was first picked in January 2020 ahead of that year's Six Nations.

Speaking in Portugal just before the start of this year's tournament, Farrell said the time had come for the 24-year-old to come of age at Test level.

READ MORE: Player by player run down: How Ireland's Grand Slam squad fared

O'Toole had only featured six times for Ulster this season before the championship kicked off - and had made only two starts in that time.

"He's been a project for a while and you get to that stage where you can't keep chasing potential," said the head coach at the start of February.

"There's been a few opportunities for Tom and it's tough for a young kid, learning his trade against the best when he comes into camp but it's certainly helped him get to where he is now.

"His set-piece work, his bread and butter stuff has really come on over the last 12 months and that's a credit to Ulster as well."

O'Toole really came to the fore in this campaign with a string of high quality performances off the bench.

"Me and Andy have a really good relationship," said the Drogheda born, Ratoath and then Canberra raised front row forward. "Andy is a coach unlike any other that I've had.

"He is unbelievably calm in what he does and he's a great leader for us.

"He drills us exceptionally well, but he keeps the mentality side of things always well in check as well.

"So we get the best of both worlds in terms of our detail and our rugby stuff. But in terms of our mentality we are always there and we're always switched on so that's why it's massive for us

"He's been a character for years and he is massively respected. And, you know, all the players would do anything for him. So it's credit to him as a coach."

Former Leinster stalwart John Fogarty is the man charged with bringing the front row unit together and he has done so in a highly effective manner, with O'Toole revealing how he has benefited his game.

"Yeah, me and Fogs have worked closely together for the last few years," added O'Toole. "Obviously people have maybe just gotten to see me in a few games this year.

"But previously me and Fogs would have done a lot of stuff behind the scenes together. We have a really good relationship. Fogs been brilliant for me.

"He is my go-to guy that I'd go to for a lot of feedback and tell me where I'm at within my rugby within my scrummaging and everything.

"So me and Fogs have had an unbelievable relationship over the last few years.

"I'm glad to see a bit of that work has paid off now in this Six Nations tournament."

And O'Toole paid tribute to Ireland’s front row union for their big Grand Slam contribution.

It wasn't just their scrum prowess that marked them out in the finale against England.

The hookers Dan Sheehan and Rob Herring also scored three of Ireland's four tries on an historic day at the Aviva Stadium.

"It's gas," laughed O'Toole. "We've got a strong connection - we're an especially tight knit group, us front rowers.

"It was class to see Squishy (Herring) get over for a try - like he did over in New Zealand in the summer series.

"So yeah, we're just delighted. And Tadhg (Furlong) in defence as well.

"We knew that England would be physical in their attack and we knew we'd have to front up. So look, there were some really, really good hits on Saturday.

"And I was just really proud of our discipline as well at times that we were physical in the contact area, but we weren't giving away any stupid penalties.

"I was just delighted with the front row."

Furlong only made it back from a three month injury absence in time for the final two games of the championship campaign.

In his absence. Finlay Bealham stepped up to the mark impressively until he was injured in round three in Rome.

O'Toole, for his part, played a massive role himself with his cameos off the bench - particularly against Wales, France and Scotland.

Nevertheless having a the world class prop of Furlong's stature back was a timely boost and O'Toole admits he has learned so much from the Leinster star.

"For the last few years he's been unbelievable for us and Finlay has obviously got his opportunity before me," said the 24-year-old.

"But we've been learning off each other and, as I said, as a front-row we are a really tight-knit group.

"We always work together, we share our work and we share our secrets.

"So there's some really good relationships, healthy relationships, between all of us.

"When each one of us are playing, we're just delighted to get an opportunity."

O'Toole also praised the contribution of Andrew Porter, the converted loosehead who had his issues with discipline at times, especially against England, but was still a vital cog in Andy Farrell's machine.

"Well, that's Ports for you isn't it, he did 80 minutes again last week you can't break the guy down," said O'Toole.

"They can keep going at him but he just is so mentally strong that he will just stay with it and stay with it.

"Ports is a great inspiration to myself and he is a great leader. He's very massively respected within the front-row and we know how hard he works.

"He is unbelievably fit and unbelievably physical and we know he always gives 100%. So we always have belief in him, no matter what."


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