Court amazed to have reached new Ulster milestone

Tom Court: Leaving for London Irish in the summer
Tom Court: Leaving for London Irish in the summer

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Cardiff v Ulster
Former Ireland prop Tom Court will make his 150th appearance for Ulster when they take on the Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park later this evening.

Court starts in the front row alongside hooker Rob Herring, who will again cover for Ireland’s Rory Best, still resting from the exertions of the Six Nations. Also starting for the first time since he broke his arm against Wales in February is lock Dan Tuohy, while Stephen Ferris will again wear the No 6 jersey in what will be his third game since his return from ankle surgery.

Chris Henry also returns from international duty along with Andrew Trimble, who features in a back line that includes Luke Marshall, who has passed al the protocols associated with concussion.

The only inexperienced starter in the back line is again scrum-half Michael Heaney, who stands in for Ruan Pienaar, resting a shoulder injury that will not rule him out of next week’s big clash with Saracens in the Heineken Cup.

Meanwhile, 32-times capped Court, who is heading off to London Irish at the end of the season, is finding the achievement hard to take in after arriving in Belfast in March 2006.

His replacement, Sharks tighthead prop Wiehahn Herbst, was announced yesterday on a three-year deal. The 25-year-old, from Klerksdorp in South Africa, came through the Sharks Academy and made his Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup debuts in 2009.

It’s an altogether different arrival from that of Court, who was a raw rugby union player after his switch from an athletic shot-putter. Brisbane-born Court had only two years’ experience in the game before he was snatched up from the Queensland Reds by Ulster. He spent a couple of years with the Malone club in Belfast before making his provincial debut.

“I definitely never dreamed of playing the game for a living,” said 33-year-old Court, who came over as a very inexperienced tight-head. “When I came over here it was a massive gamble to see if rugby would work out for me. I did have a taste of Super 14 behind me, but I still really didn’t know what I was doing. It was only when Matt Williams came in as Ulster coach that I started to move forward. I virtually begged him to let me have a crack.

“My first game was against Scarlets in 2006 when Simon Best and Brian Young were involved with Ireland and things started to take off from then when I started the last nine or 10 games in the 2007/2008 season.

“Then we decided to switch sides to loosehead and it mixed things all up again. It is one of those things where I have been fairly lucky with injury and I have been available most weeks and the caps have accumulated. But it is still hard to get your head around 150 caps for Ulster,” said Court, who gives Rory Best a lot of credit for helping him in his career.

“Realistically, apart from Matt Williams for giving me my chance, Rory has been a massive influence on me. Not only has he been the ultimate professional, but a very competitive player and drives himself, which rubs off on you.

“Not only was he beside me, he’s always in your ear giving advice, helping you along. We have had a number of scrum coaches, but it’s hard to really pick out anyone else because of his influence on me. Obviously I would have thank Declan Kidney as well for giving me my chance with Ireland. If you had said back in 2006 that I would win 32 caps for Ireland, I would have laughed at you and advised you to see a psychiatrist,” laughed Court, who said that his greatest moment was with the Lions in Australia last summer.

“I was genuinely on holidays back in Australia when I got this missed call from Guy Richardson from the Lions, but I thought is was a prank call. It was Mick Kearney the Ireland team manager who rang and informed me. When I recovered from my heart attack, I realised that it was going to happen.”

However, Court did not want to discuss his lowest point in his career which was obviously that fateful day at Twickenham two seasons ago.

“The least said the better. All I know is that I stuck it out to the end. Now all I want is some success with Ulster and to see some silverware before I move on. It’s all about getting up a head of steam as the season nears the end, starting with Cardiff.”

ULSTER: J Payne, T Bowe, D Cave, L Marshall, A Trimble, P Jackson, M Heaney; T Court, R Herring, J Afoa, J Muller (Capt), D Tuohy, S Ferris, C Henry, N Williams. Replacements: N Annett, A Warwick, R Lutton, I Henderson, R Diack, S Doyle, P Marshall, C Gilroy.

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