Heineken Cup: Court in zone for scrum-fest
There are an ample number of clichés loitering around awaiting employment but, thankfully, Tom Court chooses not to go there even though the circumstances clearly call for some battle-weary phrases to be thrown into the mix.
Instead he answers each query with calmness and authority; both attributes he hopes to bring to the cauldron that is the Stade Marcel Michelin when Ulster finally set foot on the sod of Clermont Auvergne’s fortress home.
He’s just ambled in with trainers untied and hands still fresh with dirt from the day’s session but before he addresses the massive encounter with Clermont, Ulster’s loosehead prop is eager to put the Leicester Tigers’ performance in some perspective, just in case we were all getting carried away with what was witnessed at Ravenhill last week.
“I’m sure from the outside most of the fans would think that it was one of those performances where everything went right,” says Court.
“But if you look at it with a fine-tooth comb there are still a lot of things to work on.
“There were a few moves that were actually fairly scrappy,” the 31-year-old adds.
Before you can fully digest his apparent issues with Ulster’s roasting of the Tigers, Court has already shifted his stance and is explaining just what a mammoth task lies ahead in attempting to get a win at Clermont; Ulster’s primary aim though there are a number of other scenarios that could yet see them make the last eight for the second consecutive season.
“It’s one of those things where you have to take the confidence from it (the Tigers result) and then move on and not think about it too much because, let’s face it, Clermont aren’t going to be too worried about last week.”
“That’s the one thing we have stressed this week is that it will mean nothing if we go and then get knocked out.
“You need to be going over there and hoping for a win because if you’re trying to work out ‘if and buts’ you’ve already lost,” he states.
Australian-born Court can draw from his own considerable experience — he will be winning his 90th cap for Ulster and has already collected 24 Irish caps — having played in France both for Ulster and Ireland without ever coming out on top.
It’s a record he obviously wants to change and clearly Ulster must stand up to the physical gauntlet which Clermont will throw down in what is expected to be a whirlwind opening quarter where the French side will try to bully and intimidate Ulster’s pack starting, (where else?) with the set-piece.
The scrums will be critical to Ulster fronting up against Clermont’s all-out bid to unsettle their visitors, but with John Afoa, Rory Best (pictured) and Court in such tremendous form, the Queenslander is confident Ulster have the power to deal with the French front row.
“It is difficult enough to scrummage anywhere against French teams but to be on their own turf and with Clermont having such a proud home record their pack will be staking their ego on the scrum,” Court stated.
“Leicester was definitely an acid test to see where we are as a front row, and as a pack, and things are ticking over nicely.
“Away in France we are really going to see whether we are up to it, or not and whether the pack come out on top or not will dictate the result,” he states.
After getting the better of Clermont at Ravenhill in the opening round of pool games — when Ulster won 16-11 — Court is sure that a different style of game from their hosts will be unleashed.
“French teams, for whatever the reason, tend to play a different style of game at home.
“They tend to have a lot more confidence in themselves run it from deep and will do things they wouldn’t normally attempt when they’re away from home. That’s what makes them much more dangerous.”
Now it’s down to actually delivering a performance befitting a side that needs to makes its mark in Europe. With added expectation comes extra pressure.
“The problem is you can’t start thinking just because it looks good on paper that it is going to happen on the pitch.
“But we want to go over there and win.”
Delivery time is upon them.