Tom Court’s return to the Ulster squad following the exertions of last season comes as a boost for the player and province alike.
Last season’s protracted campaign saw him make the trip to New Zealand and Australia with Ireland.
He started against the New Zealand Maori and came off the bench in each of the two Tests. It says much for his commitment to the game and to Ulster that he is chomping at the bit to return to the fray.
That may owe something to the fact he is confident about what this season may hold for Ulster.
“I’m optimistic about the season, but how could I be otherwise? Ulster have strengthened by making some really good signings and most of the guys from last season are back, too. So we’ve retained the squad and added real quality to it, which can only be good. We’ve had a very good pre-season, picking up well from where we ended last season.
“And as far as we’re concerned the Heineken Cup draw we got is very positive for us. So there are a lot of good things to all of that,” he says.
“We have a stronger squad this year,” he continues. “There’s more depth and more competition for certain positions than in the past. Last year, I think, there might have been a few times when guys knew that so long as they were fit they’d be playing. That isn’t the case now.”
Brisbane-born Australian Court, who is Irish-qualified as his grandfather was born in Limerick and
most of his family originate from Mayo, joined Ulster at the start of the 2006/07 season. He has no regrets about his choice.
Contentment with his domestic circumstances probably plays a big part in that. He, his wife Cath and their 15-month-old daughter Madeline are well settled and enjoying life in Ulster very much.
“This is the start of my fifth season with Ulster and I’m very happy to be here,” he says.
“At this stage I just want to start playing again, though I imagine my role on Friday night against Ospreys will depend on Decky’s (Declan Fitzpatrick) fitness.
“Not having played for a while, I want to get back into action as quickly as possible. I’m fit, I’m available and I want to play as soon as I can. If Ulster need me, I’ll be happy to oblige.”
As with his Irish international colleagues — Rory Best, Stephen Ferris and Paddy Wallace — who, like him, are in the panel to face Ospreys, his deployment will be in step with the IRFU’s Player Management Programme. There are no complaints from Ulster on that score.
Like Court, Best is decidedly upbeat about the prospects of the side he captains. As with Court in citing the reason for his optimism he points to the quality of the players available, particularly up front.
“When you look at the pack we had out against Leeds and then you add to that Tom Court, BJ Botha, Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry, suddenly we have depth and internationals throughout it.
“If you’re going to do well in these competitions you’re going to need a pack that can stand toe to toe with everybody else, especially on the wet nights at Ravenhill,” Best reasons.
“We feel we have a pack and the firepower to do something in this league. Now it is entirely up to ourselves whether we want to grasp the opportunity.
“The coaches have done all their work over the pre-season so now the ball is in our court.”