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Magners League: Leinster not as good as you think


Ulster's Tom Court believes that he and his teammates are capable of upsetting the odds by beating Leinster in Dublin

Ulster's Tom Court believes that he and his teammates are capable of upsetting the odds by beating Leinster in Dublin

Ulster's Tom Court believes that he and his teammates are capable of upsetting the odds by beating Leinster in Dublin

He doesn’t choose the easy option of backing away when it comes to discussing Friday’s challenge and instead confronts the mammoth-looking task with a mixture of laid-back pragmatism and hard-edged directness.

It’s just what you’d expect from Tom Court; he rarely disappoints both in the heat of battle and when staring down a microphone even though on this occasion the presence of Ian Humphreys and Nevin Spence has attracted most of the media’s attention and allowed him stand almost unnoticed at the other side of the room.

“Look, the boys are going down there under no illusions,” the 30-year-old says before delivering the punch line.

“They (Leinster) are playing fantastic rugby, but if you get on top of them early I think they’ll realise they’re not as good as everyone tells them they are.

“They are definitely beatable we saw that (last month) against Munster,” Court adds and, though it only took a last minute Ronan O’Gara penalty to allow Munster win by the narrowest margin, the Australian-born prop still has a valid point.

Apart from the pressing need to try and get to the Magners League final, Ulster will also want to put it up to a side that on two occasions this season has found a soft underbelly in Ulster’s defensive alignment and fully exploited it with convincing wins; the most recent being last month’s 34-26 toasting at the RDS.

Court missed both games but he’s experienced enough to know what it will take to have a serious tilt at halting one part of Leinster’s bid for a League and Heineken Cup double.

“To have any sort of chance against Leinster you need to combat them physically for those first 20-30 minutes,” he says. “You need to be starting well with huge physicality, match them up front and make them realise you’re here for a game and that it’s not just going to be a sevens match.”

Last week’s win at the Dragons was a more than useful psychological boost for Ulster, even though it was not an actual requirement to secure their semi-final berth, and it also helped Court get back into the swing of things again after not having played since the energy-sapping defeat to Northampton in the Heineken Cup quarter-final.

“It was just good to get back out there and get the 80 minutes under your belt,” he says referring to his 77th appearance for Ulster since making his debut four seasons ago.

“I think me and Deccie (Fellow prop Declan Fitzpatrick who has come into the side for the injured and about to depart BJ Botha) were both a little bit rusty because we hadn’t played for a while, I mean that was my first game in a month.

“It had been a while since we’d won over there so I think the boys will have really grown from that game, albeit there were a lot of mistakes, though all were things we can work on.

“I think it just really typified the season in that the boys are really showing strength of character to grind out games and get the results we need.”

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Then just as you think he might be drifting off towards sprinkling a few clichés into the conversation, he peers through his glasses and comes back with another direct statement.

“You know, we really need to step it up by 50-60% this week to be able to be in with a chance.”

He feels that the Milton Keynes experience, when Northampton’s power bludgeoned the more creative Ulster into submission, will have been useful for the squad.

Court also feels that there is now a greater togetherness and direction in the squad now.

“The team culture is as good as it’s ever been and the boys are really tight and really clicking together well and it’s really starting to show on the pitch.

“It’s been a learning curve every year I’ve been here and this year the squad has really grown. I think the signings in the off-season have really added to the culture, but the majority of the squad have been here for a while and the boys have been growing together as a team.”

Inevitably, though, the chat veers back towards Leinster and the added edge that possibly propping against Ireland rivals Mike Ross (pictured), and Cian Healy, should versatile Court have to shift across to play on the tight-head side, will bring to the occasion.

“There’s always going to be a battle on two fronts from a team perspective and a personal perspective,” says Court. “I think the personal battle is a good thing as it brings more out of you so that you can put a face to a jersey and have a direct opponent. It maybe gives you something more to imagine in the week or two leading up to it and I think it can only help”.

Court now wants his season to stretch to another game after Friday night. He also knows that there is a chance.

“We gave it a good rattle for 60 minutes (against Northampton), so obviously for us it’s now about getting in the same place but making sure we hold out for the last 20 minutes.

“They are a very good rugby team with great players but it’s a one-off game and on the day I think if Ulster get in the right place, and get the physicality up, then we’re definitely in with a chance.”