Court puts hand up for Ireland selection
As one Ulster player saw his hopes of a return to international colours dashed yesterday, another is waiting on tenterhooks today to see if he might get a belated call-up to Declan Kidney's Ireland side.
Stephen Ferris' chances of returning to the Irish squad for the Six Nations trip to Scotland were dealt a crushing blow when he failed to make it into the Ulster panel for this Friday's Pro12 game against Zebre.
Ferris, recovering from ankle surgery, had expressed the hope that he might be able to force his way into contention for the must-win game against Scotland, but Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe has declared that he is unfit to even take his place on the bench.
Meanwhile, Tom Court has a secret desire – a small part of him is hoping that he also does not have to play for Ulster this weekend, but for completely different reasons. Court knows that it may require the difficulty of an Irish colleague and rival to create a potential lifeline of international opportunity for the loosehead prop.
For, depending on the outcome of today's Six Nations disciplinary hearing at Heathrow Airport involving Cian Healy, the Australian-born Grand Slam-winner could yet return to the Ireland squad from which he was ruthlessly culled last November.
Since that time, Court's performances have been irrepressible for Ulster, but the equal excellence of Munster's Dave Kilcoyne has edged him out of contention.
However, Kidney would have no option but to recall Court to his matchday squad for the visit to Murrayfield on Sunday week.
"The Irish management will undoubtedly wait and see how things go (with Healy) and take it from there," says Court. "Yes, of course, I would certainly relish the chance to get back into the squad.
"Cian is a really hard player, and while you cannot condone foul play, after last year's result at Twickenham, there needed to be a bit of extra aggression. It's just the way you put into practice."
Court's last appearance for Ireland was on that humiliating afternoon in Twickenham when his struggles at tighthead mocked the IRFU's decade-long inability to plan for succession at No 3.
"I have been involved in all the camps, and looking back at what was my last cap, at Twickenham, I do not want to finish there," he insists. "The form I have been in this year – I would like to think I have earned enough credit to be called up.
"Possibly what happens in London may force their hand. I'm still hungry to compete at the highest level of rugby and I still think I'm good enough. If I get another opportunity I will definitely not let it slip."
Court was yesterday named in coach Anscombe's 25-man squad alongside Iain Henderson, Declan Fitzpatrick and Chris Henry, who desperately need game time following three weeks in camp, and returning All Black John Afoa.
However, out-half Paddy Jackson still has an ankle problem as he seeks to scrap for a bench berth against the Scots with Leinster's Ian Madigan and Munster's Ian Keatley, presuming Irish coach Kidney reverts to type and opts to select Ronan O'Gara from the start in the light of Jonny Sexton's hamstring tear.
Paddy Wallace, like Court another exiled international despite displaying some of his best form this season, is also doubtful for Friday with a leg injury. With Ruan Pienaar recovered from a 'stinger' to his left shoulder, Paul Marshall has been given a week off.
"The boys are very disappointed after last week's defeat," added Court, in reference to the pacesetters' Ravenhill loss to Ospreys.
"Maybe it was because we were a little rusty or different combinations involved and boys away at training camps...
"For the past couple of months our performances have not been as good as they should have been, apart from against Northampton and Leinster.
"But you cannot make excuses. You could put it down to the attitude not being right, but we made too many mistakes and there maybe was not enough leadership and communication amongst the boys.
"You cannot blame the coaches or boys away or being a little rusty, it simply comes down to the guys on the pitch not playing the way they should be playing.
"Zebre are always a very physical outfit and if you look at their scores throughout the season, they have been fairly close, and that includes our game over there when they were unlucky to lose.
"They have a lot of experience and no less quality and maybe they just need that winning habit to have an edge. A lot of people have said they are going to win sooner or later and get things right.
"Last week, for example, they put a lot of pressure on Glasgow and were leading at half-time only to lose 36-20. They can score tries and they have a lot of ability. We cannot simply write them off."