Rugby World Cup: Tom Court’s patience rewarded at last
Tom Court is perseverance personified. The Australian-born but Irish-qualified prop’s willingness to battle against the odds and overcome in the face of adversity saw him take his place on last night’s long haul flight out of Dublin en route to the World Cup in which he is expected to start in Ireland’s opening match against the USA.
On Sunday, September 11, Ireland square up to the Eddie O’Sullivan-coached Americans in New Plymouth and with Cian Healy injured and unlikely to be ready for that curtain-up date, the patient Court is the man in waiting.
He replaced Healy after 70 minutes of Saturday’s 20-9 defeat by England, taking his haul of caps to 21.
That is a total to which he hopes to add over the next few weeks. The way for him to do so has eased for, with Munster veterans John Hayes and Marcus Horan deemed surplus to Ireland coach Declan Kidney’s requirements, Court has risen to number three in the props’ pecking order.
Mike Ross is firmly embedded on the tighthead side of the front row with Healy the first-choice at loose.
Court can cover both bases and the fact that he does so better than Tony Buckley, his main rival for those dual roles, has seen him progress at the expense of the former Munster player who is now on Sale’s books.
When Court joined Ulster in the summer of 2006 it was as a tighthead.
The arrival of Springbok scrummaging machine BJ Botha put paid to that, however. Undaunted the burly Wallaby knuckled down and moved across to number one.
Despite having been called up to the Ireland ‘A’ squad for the Churchill Cup in the USA and Canada shortly after arriving in Ulster, three years elapsed before he won his first full cap as a twice-used replacement in the 2009 Grand Slam winning side.
Experience has taught him to be cautious and to take nothing for granted.
Even as the New Zealand-bound party boarded the plane he admitted he had found the whole process up to that point nerve-wracking.
“I was sort of quietly confident I’d make the 30 but until the squad was actually announced you couldn’t be 100 per cent sure.
“Obviously inclusion comes down to form and how you’re reckoned to have been going, so that’s always pretty stressful,” he admits.
“It comes down to trying to make sure that you do a decent job when you’re called upon, though you’re not alone in that. Obviously everybody who is in contention sees it the same way so the competition is pretty intense.
“You’re always tense until you know for certain what’s happening. Are you in the sad? If you are, are you starting or on the bench?
“Those are the questions you want answered every time and it never changes — until you hear the announcement it’s always a bit stressful.”
He acknowledges that with the countdown having begun it’s time for those chosen to carry Ireland’s hopes to kick into gear and rev the engine.
Having suffered defeat in four successive warm-up Test matches he knows there will have to be a lot of hard work in the next 12 days to get the team into shape, mentally and physically, for the forthcoming challenges.
“It’s just about getting on with things and staying positive,” he reckons.
“I just see it as a marvellous opportunity to do something I’ve never done before. Some of the guys have been to a few World Cups — this will be Brian’s (O’Driscoll) fourth, for example — so there’s some very experienced campaigners in there.
“It has been a major goal of mine over the past few seasons to make the World Cup and thankfully I’ve done that.
“Now it’s about making sure my head is in the right place when the opening game against the USA comes round.”
It’s hard to see how it could be otherwise for so calm, collected and determined a man.