Ulster gain as Tom Court misses out for Ireland
The terrain had all been rather familiar but that hadn't madeit any easier.He had needed a big game and, thankfully, it had been duly produced.
Tom Court knew that it had been time to deliver one of those messages which needed to be visibly posted to make others take note and heal some of the hurt that has been floating around since the autumn.
Coming up against Leinster was certainly personal but not to the extent that he could allow his own motivation, fuelled by understandable grievance, to crowd out the need to perform for the team.
He succeeded and, afterwards, he was able totake considerable but understated satisfaction from what had been a deeply rewarding evening’s work of controlled fury and his efforts, particularly at the scrums, had even meant that the RaboDirect man of the match award — in the shape of a rugby ball — had headed his way.
Indeed, there had been added resonance to the need for Court to channel his frustrations into positives on the field. The 32-year-old Brisbane born prop has spoken before about that bit of extra edge that comes from taking on interprovincial rivals and fellow Ireland squad members but opposite Court in the scrum last Friday was a certain Michael Bent who ended up having an entirely forgettable evening at Ravenhill, mostly at Court's hands.
Bent was the prop who had been drafted in by Declan Kidney to the Ireland squad literally the moment he had touched down in Dublin from New Zealand to theoretically hook up with Leinster in late October.
Indeed, while the Irish qualified Kiwi was winning his second cap off the bench against Argentina along with Munster’s David Kilcloyne — both had supplanted Court who had provided sole coverwhen one propreplacement was on match day squads — the Ulster player was spending his week out in Italy with Mark Anscombe’s rather diluted squad after having earlier been excluded from Kidney’s plans.
Though being with Ulster was certainly no particular bind to Court, it had been difficult not to be deeply disappointed after his hope of making it back to the Irish squad, after missing the tour to New Zealand due to a thumb injury picked up at the Heineken Cup final, had been thwarted.
“I was left out in the autumn,” the 29-times Irish capped Court said before explaining how he felt about it all. “Obviously I was very disappointed and a bit disillusioned after November and it was a case of making a stand and showing everyone ‘I’m still here’.”
It was certainly a case of mission accomplished but also another reminder that Ulster’s set-piece can be a thing of power and precision when Court, Rory Best and John Afoa make up their formidable front row.
“At Ulster we take pride in the set-piece. We have shown that we can scrum with the best teams in Europe and at Franklin’s Gardens against Northampton, we showed that we can match what is arguably the best club scrum in Europe. It’s just a matter of being consistent.
“Against Leinster, it was just a matter of doing the same again and we wanted to show that the set-piece is a real weapon.”
With 13 first half points scored as a result of Ulster’s scrum there could be little argument that the aim was achieved. Munster are next up on Saturday and Court acknowledged: “Thomond Park is a daunting place, so it’s just a matter of the boys getting focused and keeping the eyes on the prize really. It’s a matter of not getting too far ahead of ourselves.
“Regardless of where we are in the table at the moment we’ll need to stick to our consistency and keep winning.”
When pressed about what Ulster’s X factor might be, after managing to win 14 of their 15 games, he says: “It is an evolution in the psychology of the team, not just in how we play and in our consistency, but, I think, in how we approach games and how we think about ourselves as a team and what we can do.”
Limerick will be another test of who will earn provincial bragging rights when the front rows engage and Court knows that when he next plays it is vital not to let his performance dip too much from the ferocity shown against Leinster. “You are always going to have a point to prove,” is how Court sees it. True, but it is always satisfying to meet and then better the challenge.