Prop Court promises there’s no more Mr Nice Guy
It was Dr David Banner, the Incredible Hulk, whose famous catch line was: “Don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
The same quote can be applied to Ulster loose-head Tom Court. On learning that he had been omitted from Ireland’s post-Christmas camp, Court felt he had something to prove when he lined out on December 21 for the Yuletide PRO12 inter-pro derby clash with Leinster.
His dander well and truly up as a result of that snub by Declan Kidney, Court was outstanding alongside fellow-Irish international hooker Rory Best and former All Blacks tighthead John Afoa. The Ulster trio totally eclipsed their Leinster counterparts Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Michael Bent, with the outplayed visitors going down 27-19.
Eight days later when Ulster faced Munster at Thomond Park, Court made a significant difference when he joined the fray from the bench for the final 22 minutes during which Mark Anscombe’s side played their best rugby of the match.
Yesterday at Newforge there was a discernable single-mindedness about the 32-year-old Brisbane-born prop. A la Alice Cooper, No More Mr Nice Guy.
“I guess that up until this point, although I’ve been around for a while and have achieved a lot, I just don’t feel I’ve achieved my full potential,” he said.
“You hear the word potential thrown around a lot, mainly with regard to the young guys, but I did a lot of different sports when I was younger and I suppose I’ve just got to the point where I feel it’s time I pulled the finger out and started trying to live up to the full potential rather than just ticking over and being happy with what I’ve had previously.
“One of the things coaches have been on at me about ever since I started playing was that I needed to be more aggressive and I guess angrier, if you want to use that term, on the pitch.
“Sometimes it just takes a while to understand what’s involved and to start to get a grasp of it all, I suppose. I’m just enjoying rugby now so I don’t know if there’s a point to prove or if it’s really just a case of me trying to play to my full potential, getting better and showing that I’m still here and not willing to bow out just yet.”
At 6ft 3in and 18st 5lb, Court is not a man with whom to mess. Right now he is in the mood.
“In the last five or six games I’ve been going well and it’s just been sort of building,” is his description of his recent form which has prompted Donal Lenihan, team manager of the British & Irish Lions 2013, to note: “Tom Court is having a great year.”
Typically the big Ulster loose-head is modest, level-headed and slightly wary of such compliments.
“It has always been the way with my playing rugby that if you can string a few games together and keep that consistency going you get a feel for it, you begin to improve and you keep improving,” he said.
And sometimes a motivating barb or two can heighten the hunger and hasten the process.
So there is a hint of a smile as he adds: “It is a big thing to play some of the other provinces where you’re up against boys who are competing for spots in the Irish team. It’s a chance to stake a claim so it’s nice to be able to put down a marker and show where you are and come out feeling fairly confident.
“Whether that form and whether that consistency will make any difference in selections going forward, who knows? I guess all I can do is keep doing as much as I can and keep playing well. After that it’s out of my hands.
“Declan has a tough job in trying to keep all the parties happy. I don’t envy him that. All I can do is control the controlables and worry about how I’m playing and what I’m doing against whoever I’m playing against each week.”
This week his focus is on Scottish opponents rather than Irish rivals, for on Friday night Glasgow will be at Ravenhill where they will be trying to lob a massive thistle-shaped spanner into Ulster’s Heineken Cup works.
Court in highly respectful of these particular opponents.
“They’re a very good pack and they’ve a very good scrum. Northampton arguably have one of the best club scrums in the northern hemisphere, but I think Glasgow have a great scrum, too,” he said.
“They’re very underrated. They stuck it to Northampton in the scrum and they gave us a bit of a torrid time over there as well, so if we go in thinking that it’s just a matter of turning up we’re going to end up very, very disappointed.”