Tom Court versus Brendon James (BJ) Botha promises to be the most hard-fought personal battle within Easter Sunday’s Munster-Ulster Heineken Cup quarter-final war.
For three seasons the pair were Ulster team-mates, packing down on either side of Rory Best, Court at loose-head, Botha at tight.
Together they went through the highs and lows that go with being comrades in arms; some great wins, some hard-to-take defeats, occasions to savour, others best forgotten.
Almost a year to the day – April 10, 2011 – they were fellow-props when Brian McLaughlin’s side lined out against Northampton Saints in the Heineken Cup quarter-final at stadium mk. Ulster were beaten 23-13.
Like all their playing colleagues, coaching staff and management, Court and Botha were left bitterly disappointed, their conviction then – and now – being that they were good enough to have beaten the English Premiership giants.
Then last summer Botha left to join Munster. Which means that on Sunday afternoon, one or other of the pair is going to experience a comparable feeling to the low of Milton Keynes. For with so much at stake and in view of the fierce inter-pro rivalry, losing for the second time in 12 months is not going to be easy to accept.
The fact that they know each other’s game from top to bottom merely adds another log to the fire beneath the bubbling reds versus whites cauldron.
Yet for all of that, Court displays no hint of misgiving or trepidation. Two highly successful Ulster outings for the big loose-head appear to have exorcised the ghost of Twickenham where, after 35 minutes, he was pitched in at number three to deputise for the injured Mike Ross and – in common with his Ireland colleagues – proceeded to endure a quite horrific afternoon at the hands and feet of the English.
This, however, is altogether different.
This time Court will be playing on the side of the scrum he is now accustomed to and against an opponent whose game he knows thoroughly.
“BJ’s a great guy and a great operator in the scrum. But I’m really relishing the opportunity and getting really excited about it,” Court said.
“It’s just one of those things where sometimes you have to play against guys you’re friends with, though when it comes down to the teams there’s no love lost.
“I think it’s just going to be a case of who does their job better on the day,” he said of his encounter with Botha.
“I think we both have seen enough of each other to know one another inside out and back to front.
“Obviously BJ will have his things and I’ll have mine, but it will just depend on how we go on the day.”
And, in addition to that very personal cameo, how does he see the bigger picture?
“Ulster have got their heads in the right place and are going down there for the win,” he added.