Tom Court says a number of his Irish international team-mates are beginning to take Ulster a lot more seriously than before.
That was the good news he was able to bring into the Ulster camp after being released by Ireland following Sunday’s 21-18 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield.
Court teamed up with his Ulster colleagues alongside whom he will play against Aironi tonight before rejoining Declan Kidney and company to start the countdown to next Saturday’s date with Wales in Cardiff.
With Ireland duties having taken him to Edinburgh, Court played no part in Ulster’s 32-13 Belfast demolition of Cardiff Blues last Friday.
But he watched it on television in Scotland — in the company of his Irish comrades.
“I sat there on Friday night watching it on the big screen with the (Irish) guys and thinking, ‘You know, maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad to be back at home’,” said Court.
“Okay, you’d prefer to be with the national side than not, but it’s reassuring to know that the boys back home are continuing to go well. And it’s always good to come home and get back into the buzz.”
He reveals, too, that a number of his fellow-internationals are beginning to take note of Ulster's re-emergence.
“I think they’re maybe beginning to realise that we’re moving forward, going in the right direction and things are starting to happen,” he said.
Court agrees with the conviction now growing in Leinster and Munster circles; Ulster are coming again.
“Everything is starting to work well. The combinations are working well and the boys up here are starting to get confident that we can take on these guys, match them and beat them.
“Maybe at the start of the season some people raised their eyebrows a bit, but now they’ve begun to realise that we (Ulster) have consolidated and that Brian (McLaughlin) and the rest of the guys are doing a really good job.”
He was full of praise for last Friday’s performance against Cardiff, who came to Belfast occupying second place in the Magners League and went home with their tails between their legs having been whipped by 19 points.
“I think that was the best rugby that we’ve played this season. The forwards did well and the backs looked great,” said Court.
“Definitely this is the best Ulster squad I’ve known since I came here. In the past it was a bit up and down and the mood sort of ebbed and flowed. And, obviously, there was a fairly high turnover of coaches.
“But now everyone has bedded in well and I think the hard work David Humphreys has done in trying to put a squad mentality together with Brian and the rest of the coaches, and with Shane (Logan) coming in and putting his ethos of things in as well, everyone’s really buying into it.
“Everyone’s working together and this is the best it’s been in my time with Ulster — and I’m pushing six years here now.”
Court is keen to point out that it is a work in progress rather than a finished job.
“I think the boys see that it can still be a lot better, too,” he said.
“There’s no reason why we can’t push on and be the leading province in Ireland.
“It has been a real combination of belief and respect. Within the team and within the coaching staff you can see that everyone is working towards the same goal and everyone wants the same thing.
“And then there is the belief of the supporters in the team and in the management, too. Increasingly you sense that everybody believes we can do this, so nobody is lifting their foot off the pedal.”
Court knows it must be hard for a player who has done well in the absence of internationals to lose out when the big names return and he is highly conscious of that.
“There are guys who have been here and playing well while you’ve been away, so obviously, if you slot straight back in — and take somebody else’s spot — then regardless of where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing that other guy is going to feel a bit bad,” said Court.
“That can make you feel a little bit sheepish coming back in. There’s a lot of pressure on you, (a) because you’ve got to perform since you’ve taken somebody else’s spot, and (b) from a more selfish viewpoint you’ve got to perform in order to keep your place in the Irish set-up.
“So for guys like Paddy (Wallace) and myself coming back this week, there’s pressure on two fronts — from the guy whose place in the Ulster side you’ve just taken and because you know that if you want to win a place in the Irish team you have to perform better than the guy who currently is keeping you out.”
Aironi, you have been warned.