Ireland bench mark is Court’s order of the day
Depending on your view of adaptability, Tom Court’s ability and willingness to play on either side of the front row can be viewed as an asset or a handicap.
Would he fare better as an out-and-out loosehead or tighthead, specialising in the skills required of a number one or three?
This week Irish coach Declan Kidney hailed Court’s versatility as a positive, saying his experience of playing on either side of the hooker had earned him his place on the bench for tomorrow’s 2010 Guinness Series opener against the Springboks in Dublin.
But as Kidney revealed his thinking on the matter, one could not but wonder if Court himself will have been wholly convinced by this latest explanation. At that moment one suspected that the big prop — all 19st 2lbs of him — might just have been tossing that ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ thing about in his head.
What Kidney does know is that when Court is pitched in tomorrow, he can be relied upon to do a job.
“When you’re in a big squad that you know is going to be reduced you just keep training and doing what is asked of you in the hope that you’re one of the guys who gets to stay.
“You’ve got to keep pushing on and doing as much as you can,” Court says.
There is no hint of bitterness and he keeps his cards admirably close to his chest.
If he feels hard done by, he hides it well. Currently he is one of Ireland’s 22 chosen ones and a lot of players would love to be able to say that.
“The selection issue is always in the back of your mind so you can never switch off from that completely,” is his description of life in-camp in the build-up to an international match.
“Obviously it’s different to being at home; it’s not as relaxed so you can’t switch off to the same extent. But when we’re together like this the management team and coaches do everything they can to help us with those things,” he says.
But with more competitors than places, it can’t be easy to wind down. “No, it isn’t,” Court admits. “I suppose there’s always going to be funny dynamics in a group where some people are going to be playing and others aren’t when the selection is announced.
“If anyone said they don’t feel that strain and pressure I guess I’d feel they were lying.”
With Cian Healy and Tony Buckley once again starting at one and three, Court will provide the cover from the bench. He knows it is a case of when, rather than if, he will be deployed. He knows, too, what awaits him when that happens.
“The Springboks base their whole game on physicality and trying to dominate the opposition.
“They’re the World Cup holders so obviously they’re very good at it. They are capable, not only of beating everybody else ,but of putting 40 or 50 points on sides.
“They’re a team deserving of your total respect. You’ve got to do everything you possibly can to try and beat them — and even then that may not be enough.
“But these are the big games, the ones you need to focus on and win if you’re to push on as an international side.”
At Ulster his colleagues include a quartet of Boks — BJ Botha, Johann Muller, Pedrie Wannanberg and Ruan Pienaar — plus a fifth South African, Robbie Diack, who is uncapped as yet. Of those players, only Pienaar is involved in tomorrow afternoon’s showdown at the Aviva Stadium.
What, if anything, has Court learned as a result of playing alongside those South Africans?
“There’s an image that comes with the Springboks — just as there is with the All Blacks and Wallabies — so I think that rather than looking at them as individuals, sometimes that image is what the rest see.
“As a result of getting to know the guys on our team, I’ve seen just how motivated they are.
“They’re very professional, very driven.
“But they’re just normal, everyday guys and they can make mistakes, have an off-day, lose concentration. So they’re like the rest of us — South Africans aren’t superhuman.”