Return to Ulster has eased Court’s misery
Tom Court appears intent on making the most of his status as an Ulster player to work off the frustration he feels at his treatment by Ireland.
Up until now the Grand Slam winner’s worth to Irish coach Declan Kidney has been his ability to operate on either side of the front row. But now he appears to have become a victim of the new ruling permitting replacements for both props in international rugby rather than one man to cover left and right.
With only six of his 29 international caps having come as a starter, Court’s confidence suffered another setback when Kidney released him from the Irish camp.
He re-joined Ulster ahead of last Sunday’s clash with Zebre and replaced Callum Black from the bench, since when he has remained in Italy with Mark Anscombe’s PRO12 pace-setters.
The former Australian colleges-level field-sports champion, who had Olympic trials as a shot-putter in 2002, qualifies for Ireland via his Limerick-born grandfather. Of late, though, the 6ft 3ins, 18st 5lbs front row warrior has been shunted down the pecking order, with Cian Healy and Mike Ross established as the first-choice numbers one and three, and Dave Kilcoyne and just-arrived New Zealander Michael Bent the back-up pair.
With Ulster, however, Court — armed with 108 appearances to confirm his conviction — believes he is a valued team member.
Speaking from Ulster’s base in Parma, he described his situation regarding his commitment to club and adopted country by saying: “Sure you want to keep playing well and do something that’s maybe going to catch the attention of the (Irish) coaches.
“But for me it’s just about contributing to Ulster, making sure you’re consistent and obviously making sure that we win.”
Court was forthright in admitting that omission is a bitter pill to swallow.
“It is difficult, I’m not going to say it’s easy. In the last few years there has been a lot of disappointment and a lot of tough times, I’ve felt, from getting cut from teams and not being selected, sometimes maybe where just the facts of the selection just didn’t really add up.”
“I guess that’s just the way professional sport goes. I used to shot-putt and when you threw the distance you got picked. But in a team sport you’re relying on other people and there’s a lot of other factors that come into play.
“You have somebody else who can dictate your entire life, really, when they’re selecting teams, whether it be for a club or for your country.
“It’s a bit of a roller coaster and you have to learn how to deal with it. There have been some pretty low times over the past 12 months, but the way Ulster are going at the moment is very good and makes it very, very easy to slot back in with the boys.
“It has been really enjoyable the past week over here. The boys have been having a great time and that has made it a lot easier, let me put it that way.”
Although they were not included in the 24-strong Ulster panel named yesterday, scrum-half Paul Marshall and wing Andrew Trimble are expected to be released by Ireland and — just like Court and fellow-Irish international prop Declan Fitzpatrick last week — re-join their provincial team-mates in time for tomorrow night’s clash with Treviso.
Court knows only too well how they are likely to be feeling.
“They’ll be coming back over, wanting to make a point and proving that they maybe should have been in the (Ireland) team this week,” he ventured.
“I haven’t heard yet whether they have been released, or who’s going to be in the team. I think maybe the boys will find that out today or tonight.
“But if they’re released and are available to us then they’ll just want to get back out with the rest of the boys, play well and make sure we win.”
On the current competition for places in the unbeaten Ulster team, Court opined: “There’s been a lot of young guys coming in and getting opportunities they maybe normally wouldn’t get, so they’re obviously trying to prove a point.
“There are other guys who have been there a little while but want to keep performing well and showing that they deserve to be there.
“And then obviously there are internationals — a lot of internationals — coming back, so there’s boys wanting to hold onto slots and prove that they deserve to be in the team.”