Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

Ulster Rugby: Full steam ahead for Tom Court in his final days with side

On the way out: Tom Court in his last season with Ulster before he moves on to London Irish

Despite the fact he is effectively working his notice, Tom Court is as committed as ever to the Ulster cause.

When the season ends he will be moving on to join London Irish whose offer of a three-year contract was too good to turn down.

At 33, professional sportsmen realise they have more of their playing days behind rather than before them so the longer the guarantee of a decent income the better.

Not having been included in Ireland's 2014 Six Nations squad, Court has had some recent time out. As a result, he is mentally and physically in good shape to help Ulster in their bid for a place in the PRO12 top four play-offs.

"After the Leicester game we all had a few days off so I got away and managed to get a bit of sun," he said.

"I feel great, feel refreshed again. The batteries are fully recharged so I'm feeling really positive about and excited about the back end of this season.

"It's the first time in a long time that I've been able to use the end of January, beginning of February to rest up and make sure that I'm fresh and ready to go for Ulster.

"I guess the one thing I'm really pushing for and hoping for this year is that I can do as much as I can to make sure that Ulster get over the line and we get some silverware."

Reflecting on the fact that he, fellow-prop John Afoa (pictured) and captain Johann Muller are leaving at the end of the season, Court said: "I guess it's a Catch-22 in that you always want to carve out a niche for yourself so that you feel you're irreplaceable and you've made a position your own.

"I guess if you look at the three guys out of the front five that are leaving, we'd all like to think that to some degree we have done that.

"But wherever you end up – whether you're retiring or moving on – you don't want to leave your team light or in a bit of a quandary with regards to who replaces you. So that's a tricky situation.

"Ultimately it's up to David Humphreys to decide and he has acquitted himself very well in the past with regards to recruitment and personnel.

"Hopefully, Ulster will be able not only to utilise the guys we've got here already and get them to step up, but also to recruit some more as effectively as in the past so that we get the right guys who not only are able to play at a certain level but fit in with the squad mentality, too.

"Getting the right guys with the right approach and rugby mentality so that they're going to fit in here and slot straight into the team is massive."

The fact that he talks in terms of 'we', 'us' and 'here' says it all. Until such times as he has played his last game for Ulster, he will be giving everything.

"Obviously Johann has been a great leader for us and not only a great leader but a fantastic player, too. Very consistent. A Springboks captain is going to be hard to replace. John Afoa is a World Cup-winning tight-head, so again you're talking about a world-class player," Court said

"There are certain positions where you need a certain type of player and they don't just come along every day, so it's up to Ulster not only to look at trying to replace them with like-for-like but obviously to try and bring through our younger guys and develop them so that in a few years you're not relying so much on buying guys in but on developing your own."

His description of his own experience since joining Ulster from Queensland Reds in 2006 is interesting.

"I look at myself and I feel that Ulster have developed me, because when I first arrived I really didn't know too much about what was going on out there!" he admitted.

"And I've come through from where we were fighting it out with Connacht to stay off the bottom of the league to the position where, in the past few years, we have gone from strength to strength and been very consistent."

If Scarlets know anything about Thomas Gordon Court, they will know to expect nothing less than maximum effort from him tonight.

"They will have watched last week's game and probably they will be sniffing a bit of blood based on what they saw," he said. "They have a big, physical pack who love to get stuck into you and, when they do, and their backs get front foot ball, they can score tries.

"It's going to be difficult, but we need to crank it up a few gears after last week's performance which was quite poor, to be honest.

"These are matches we need to win and we know we're good enough to do that. But we have to do it when we step out there."

Doesn't sound like a man who will be holding anything back tomorrow night.

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