Saturday 24 February 2018

Court has good reason to be cheerful after Lions rout Rebels

rebels 0 Lions 35

Tom Court in action for the Lions in Melbourne yesterday on his debut
Tom Court in action for the Lions in Melbourne yesterday on his debut
Conor George

Conor George

FOR a long, long time, Tom Court thought his international Test career would forever have an asterisk after it to draw attention to his 29th appearance for ireland.

That was the cap he won after replacing Mike Ross at tighthead prop against England in the 2012 Six Nations in Twickenham. To this day, those excruciating 43 minutes – Ross went off injured in the 37th minute – are painful to recall.

Court was eviscerated. Ireland's scrum coughed up a penalty try, six scrum penalties and three scrums against the head that day. The scrum was in trouble even before Court was introduced, but he endured the worst of it.

"I didn't think I'd win cap number 30 coming off the pitch that day," he recalled.

However, yesterday, Court officially became Lions player number 806.

It was fortuitous that the Ulster and Ireland prop was in Australia – he was holidaying on the Gold Coast with his family – when Alex Corbisiero's calf injury occurred. But he was, he got the call and he's now one of that elite group of players who can call themselves a Lions player.

"This obviously tops it all off really," said Court with a healthy dose of understatement and modesty.

"Coming off the pitch and actually realising it all had happened and them telling me I've now officially got a Lions number was certainly the high point of the last few days and of my career.

"Everything has happened so fast that I'm sure it will sink in sooner or later, but, for the moment, I've been trying to go with the flow and see how things work out."

Court entered the game in the 55th minute.

The fare was well over as a contest at that juncture – it never really got going – but he acquitted himself well and if that was his last involvement, he'll certainly have memories to cherish.

"I don't know what the situation is. Initially they said it would be a few days and now it's a 'wait and see' because they are still not sure of the severity of Alex's injury.

"They are going to reassess in the morning once the dust settles and make their minds up."

Mention of Corbisiero brought a wry smile to Court's face. The London Irish prop was the one who gave Court such a torrid time of it in that painful game in Twickenham.

"It is ironic. Alex was heavily involved in my lowest point in rugby and now has been responsible for my highest point. Maybe it's a bit of justice!"

When Court entered the fray, the Lions were cruising at 21-0 after tries from Conor Murray, Sean Maitland and Sean O'Brien. They were awarded a penalty try soon afterwards before Ben Youngs, who replaced the excellent Murray, rounded off the night's work with another.

As a contest, it was a mismatch. The Rebels huffed and puffed, but to no avail. The game only came to life after Simon Zebo and his opposite number Tom English tangled a couple of times and the crowd took up the chant of "Zebo, Zebo." But the lack of any real atmosphere was peripheral at best for Court.

"This game is the peak of Mount Everest, really," he said. "This is one of those things that is going to be hard to believe for a long time to come and I'm just going to enjoy having that red jersey.

"I think 806 might be my new favourite number."

Before the game, the Lions players were given every incentive to perform, with Warren Gatland insisting there were places in his Test team and squad up for grabs. He reiterated those comments after the game and it will be interesting to see if he is true to his word.

If he is, then surely O'Brien will feature in Saturday's second Test, while both Zebo and Murray might also have forced their way into the reckoning.

O'Brien's strength and mobility embarrassed the Rebels regularly and Mike Phillips' poor form – he has been carrying a knee injury – last Saturday has opened up the possibility for a changing of the guard.

Those questions will be answered tomorrow when Gatland reveals the squad he hopes can secure an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series.

Court won't be involved in the game, but for someone who thought he was the butt of a practical joke when the initial call-up was relayed to him, he's now got memories to last a lifetime.

"It is only when Mick Kearney's (Ireland team manager) name came up on the phone that I realised this was real.

"I hadn't considered it. Okay, there were a lot of injuries, but I'd be down the pecking order. I didn't even have a gum-shield or contact lenses with me ... nothing.

"The heart started to go once he rang!"


During the game, the Lions showed bursts of initiative play even if they were a little foolhardy at times. Early on, they spent 10 minutes inside the Rebels' '22' without harvesting any points, tempting fate by kicking for the corner with handy points available from the kicking tee.

But after losing their previous mid-week outing, their hesitancy was, perhaps, to be expected.

They came good in the end. It wasn't memorable by any stretch, but those 'dirt-trackers' who have now effectively finished their tour have, at least, signed off on a winning note and the Test team has some momentum to channel for Saturday.

For others like Court, the guilt of pawning the children off on their grandparents will be dealt with down the road – "It's also my 10th wedding anniversary" – because, for now, he can reflect and celebrate becoming Lions player number 806.

It's some journey from Twickenham and Ireland cap number 29 – "I think I'm on 32 now" – to his first Lions cap.

Fickle fate can smile when you least expect it!

Melbourne Rebels – J Woodward; T English, M Inman (C Vuna 53), R Sidey, L Mitchell; B Hegarty (A Roberts 72), L Burgess (N Stirzaker 57); N Henderson (C Ah Nau 60), G Robinson (P Leafa 6), L Weeks (P Alo-Emile 60), C Neville (L Jones h-t), H Pyle, J Saffy, S Fuglistaller, G Delve (J Reid 57).

LIONS – R Kearney (B Twelvetrees 62); S Maitland, M Tuilagi, B Barritt, S Zebo; O Farrell (S Hogg 53), C Murray (B Youngs 64); R Grant (T Court 55), R Hibbard (R Best 55), D Cole (M Stevens 55), R Gray, I Evans, D Lydiate (T Croft 66), S O'Brien (J Tipuric 55), T Faletau.

REF – G Jackson (NZ).

Irish Independent

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