Thursday 14 December 2017

Court getting reward for his Irish gamble

Tom Court. Photo: Getty Images
Tom Court. Photo: Getty Images

Tom Court believes the risk he took in pursuing his international career with Ireland is now being rewarded.

Brisbane-born Court picked up a rugby ball for the first time as a 24-year-old in 2004, but the shot put trialist for the Sydney Olympics adapted quickly.

Initially turning to the sport to lose weight, within two years he was playing in the Super 14 for the Queensland Reds.

Realising that he was some way down the pecking order, however, he rejected a contract offer from the franchise and accepted an offer from Ulster instead.

Soon after arriving in 2006 and before even pulling on an Ulster jersey, he was selected by Ireland A for the Churchill Cup, qualifying through a grandfather.

His Test debut came during this year's RBS 6 Nations and he will win his 11th cap against Samoa on Saturday, continuing a rise that surprises even himself.

"When I first came to Ireland I wouldn't have rated myself very highly. I'd only been playing for 15 or 16 months," said Court.

"I regret a little bit not coming to the sport earlier, but it couldn't have gone any better - it's been a dream.

"You have to take things as they are. I gave up a fairly high-paying job in a managerial position in Australia and a contract offer from the Reds to come to Ulster.

"It was a massive gamble and at first things went slowly and I wasn't playing much for Ulster. I had doubts.

"It was a process of continual improvement. The priority was getting the scrum right, and then adding to my game.

"I feel like I'm getting better each year but it's only in the last six months that I've started to feel comfortable at this level.

"I realise that if I get my head in the right place I can make an impact.

"The original goal was to nail down a spot with Ulster, the dream was to play for Ireland.

"Last week against South Africa I reached double figures in caps and it's still a bit hard to believe. It's almost gone too smoothly.

"I'm trying to switch off about that though, I can wax lyrical when I'm retired."

Court has profited from his ability to cover both sides of the scrum, making him a key addition to Ireland's bench.

Eight of his 10 appearances have been as a replacement, although against Samoa he starts at loosehead in place of Cian Healy.

The 30-year-old is happy operating in either of the two prop positions, but believes his versatility could ultimately hold him back.

"I've played both sides in the past but this year I've played at tighthead a lot for Ulster," he said.

"I'm not overly fussy. Whatever side Ireland want me to play on, I'll take it. I won't shirk any opportunity in an Irish jersey.

"Being able to play both sides is sometimes a catch 22. It can mean you are picked more often if you play both sides.

"But if you want to push on then sometimes it can work against you because other guys may specialise in one side or the other.

"I just have to make sure I perform at the highest possible standard on both sides. It's then up to them to pick and choose."

The scrum has often been Ireland's Achilles heal, but Court believes it now offers a second avenue of attack at the set-piece following years of over-reliance on the line-out.

"We've got the depth to challenge any team in the scrum, it's just about getting it right on the day," he said.

"In the past Ireland have relied purely on the line-out, but maybe because Paul O'Connell has been injured we've had to rely more on our scrum."

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