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Tom Court: Brains behind the brawn

By Niall Crozier

Last weekend in Parma, City of Derry stalwart Jim Galbraith expressed amazement, verging on horror, after seeing Tom Court stroll through the foyer of the Grand Hotel de la Ville with a book in his hand.

“A prop with a book?” he said. “That’s not natural.”

In Court’s case it is. Forget stereotypes; he’s a highly-intelligent man, whose ability to |express himself off the pitch matches his strength and skill |on it.

He is adaptable, too. Witness the fact that he was able to switch from loose head to the tight side of the scrum when required to do so, a mere five minutes into last Saturday night’s battle with Aironi in Viadana.

“I hadn’t expected that,” he smiled. “I’d focused a lot on the loose head side because I was preparing to face (Salvatore) Perugini, who is a bit of a difficult character at the best of times.

“So I’d focused on some of the technical stuff of propping against a tough tight head, and all of the plays and positions that go with that. The fact that it changed after five minutes obviously didn’t help our plans, but you have to deal with things like that and adapt.”

When Court joined Ulster from Queensland Reds at the start of the 2006-07 season, it was as a tight-head. But then Botha arrived and promptly nailed down the number three job. Court had to change.

So does he see his adaptability in playing either side a blessing or a curse? “A bit of both,” is his honest assessment. “You have to be an expert in order to play in either of those positions. If you’re just moderate, that’s not going to be good enough at this level.

“If you’re playing on one side all the time you can focus on that and get everything perfect. That’s probably going to help you a lot more than moving about.

“But then there are times when being able to play either side can be an advantage — provided you play well, that is.”

As for tonight’s meeting with Edinburgh, he views that as providing another opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the Magners League and beyond that into Europe as the start of the Heineken Cup looms.

“There can be no excuses now,” he said. “David Humphreys and Shane Logan have gone out there and shown their intent by signing the players they have. As well as that, everybody who was here last season now is a year further on in their development.

“We have a pack that should be able to dominate every other team in the Magners League, and able to stand up to the best in Europe without giving away too much change,” he said.

“So at this stage it’s about playing together, getting to know one another’s game, and starting to produce big performances.

“The South African guys are up to top form already. Now the rest of us have to match them, by getting ourselves up to the same level.

“It’s important that as we build towards the Heineken Cup, we all get to know each other |quickly, really start to gel, and play as a team.”

Passing the test Edinburgh will set Ulster tonight would be a big plus.

“Edinburgh are a very unpredictable team. While their form going into this one hasn’t been great, we know that they are |capable of beating anybody.

“We certainly can’t afford to go in there thinking that, because we’ve got two wins in the bag and they have lost their first two matches, everything will fall into place.

“We have to work for a result. We start from nil-nil — a clean slate. So we need to do it again and we need to do it better than we did last week.

“It’s about building week on week — the second better than |the first, the third better than |the second, and so on,” he |said.

“Edinburgh are opponents who can draw you into trying to play their style of game, leaving you disappointed in the end.

“We can’t afford to get dragged into that. We have to stick to our game and try to play it on our terms.”

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