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I’m ready to step up to the plate: Court

By Niall Crozier

With tomorrow being the day that Declan Kidney announces his trimmed down squad for Ireland’s clash with Italy, Tom Court isn’t counting on a particularly good sleep.

“No, I’ll not sleep particularly well. There’s a lot goes through your mind in a situation like that,” the Ulster loose head admits.

Court’s recent form meant his inclusion in the initial 44-strong party was in no doubt. But now it’s about smaller numbers of players, with a place in the starting line-up the ultimate prize or, failing that, one on the bench.

Appearances in a brace of friendlies followed by cameo roles as a replacement in two of last season’s five Six Nations matches en route to Grand Slam glory merely whet his appetite; they did not satisfy his hunger.

Those tastes of success, which were followed by a place in the starting line-up in the Autumn series match against Fiji at the RDS in November, merely left him wanting more.

“Last year I was delighted to make the 22. This year I want to be playing,” he says.

So where does he see himself in the pecking order at this stage?

“You’d have to say that Cian (Healy) is likely to start, though I’d like to think that I’m at least putting a bit of pressure on him now,” is the modest Court’s take on things.

“Obviously Marcus (Horan) is hugely experienced and now he’s coming back after injury, so that’s another consideration.

“I’m sure Declan is going to have some tough calls to make, so all I can do is continue to play as well as I can for Ulster, train well with Ireland and then, if I’m given a chance, try to make the most of that.

“Really that’s all anyone can do — keep playing, keep training and if an opportunity comes your way, try to make sure you grab it.”

He admits that what has happened to him since he enlisted for Ulster has far exceeded his expectations.

“When I came here my first aim was to try and improve my rugby. I wanted to play top level rugby, by which I mean Magners League and Heineken Cup,” he explains.

“The label ‘Irish-qualified’ was convenient because it meant I was able to play as a local. At that stage that’s probably as far as it went.”

Expressing his appreciation of the thoroughness and professionalism of the modern-day Irish system, he reveals: “Declan and the others will have a lot of one-on-ones with us. Even the young guys coming in for the first time get that.”

Gert Smal is Ireland’s forwards coach and it is clear Court holds the former Springbok in high regard, highlighting his attention to detail in order to get the optimum out of the pack.

Court continues: “I think my form, personally, has improved and I reckon I’m more consistent than before. The Ulster scrum has improved, thanks in no small way to BJ (Botha), and that has helped me.”

Speaking prior to heading south yesterday to re-join the Irish camp he said the mood during the previous week’s get-together in Limerick had been positive.

“You can feel it. Everyone’s excited. There’s a sense of anticipation and everyone just wants to get stuck in,” he says.

He adds a note of candour, however: “But there’s just a little apprehension, too, because of the weight of expectation, I suppose.

“Last year we went in and we had a great run. Because we did that, this year there is great expectation.

“Our ranking has gone up a lot in the past 12 months. We spent the entire season undefeated so this season we start as one of the favourites.

“With that comes pressure. There’s going to be a lot of guys out there trying to bring us down.

“There might have been one or two who underestimated us slightly last year but that’s not going to happen this time. Ireland are the defending champions and because we are we’ll be the side they all want to beat. There are no easy games in this competition.”

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