British & Irish Lions

Tom courts his Irish roots

Tom courts his Irish roots

Queenslander Tom Court, the country boy from Gatton, has been selected in the Irish test squad to take on the Wallabies on Sunday.

The interesting thing about this is that one of his front row opponents in the Wallabies, who was also a former club mate, could have been playing beside him.

Stephen ‘Squeaky’ Moore, born in Saudi Arabia of Irish parentage was another who considered offers to play rugby in Ireland and potentially gain international selection for the green, but not gold. 

Croke Park is a far cry from Red Heavies’ Stadium at the University of Queensland but Court is the embodiment of a big bloke who has portable sporting skills.

A Lowood State High School product, Court graduated to UQ and subsequently concentrated his sporting endeavours on athletics.

He became the Australian Universities shot put champion for a number of years and tried out for the Sydney Olympics.

He took up rugby in 2004 in order to lose weight; lower grade stuff initially but he showed huge potential.

And what an environment to learn to play rugby. Fellow front rowers were Squeaky Moore and big Herman Hunt.

Team mates, when not on representative duty, included Mitch Chapman, Rudi Vedelago, ‘Big Kev’ Horwill, ‘Marcia’ Hynes, ‘Shmoo’ Mitchell, Andrew Brown and Josh Graham.

Court gained representative selection for Queensland ‘A’ in 2005 and backed it up with a brief NPC stint in Palmerston North with Manawatu.

He subsequently signed for the Reds Academy in 2006 and ended up playing a number of Super 14 matches with the Reds from the bench.

Court was down the pecking order behind Greg Holmes, Rodzilla Blake, Anthony Mathison and Pete Niumata.

He was eligible for Ireland through his grandfather, so decided to take up an offer to play in Ulster. In those early days he also developed his technique in the English 1st Division playing out of Solihull for the Pertemps Bees.

He was initially a tighthead prop but ended up switching to loosehead for a time, proving to be a valuable utility commodity.

He was selected to play for Ireland A in the 2006 Churchill Cup squad probably on a ‘potential’ basis, and again in 2008.

This year he won senior selection in the Irish Six Nations winning team. His first full Irish test cap was against Italy in February.

At 29 years of age, 1.91cm and weighing in at a trim 122kg (he was 140kg once), he is just maturing in competitions and in conditions which are conducive to the development of a front rower’s skills.

The Irish coach Declan Kidney included Court on the bench in the team announced today. Kidney had all players available to him apart from prop Marcus Horan.

There were injury and illness clouds over a number of players, Munster’s Jerry Flannery in particular, however all have been declared fit and well.

It had been known since last week that experienced Irish internationals Shane Horgan, Peter Stringer,  Neil Best, Donnacha Ryan, Gavin Duffy, Isaac Boss and Andrew Trimble had missed out in senior squad selection but they were confirmed today in the ‘A’ team to play Tonga.

The Irish run-on team more or less picks itself, with Kidney  including some youngsters on the bench. The only real doubt was whether Gordon D’Arcy or Paddy Wallace would get the inside centre gig, with Wallace the man.

Cian Healy has been playing the house down for Leinster at prop and is a logical selection to replace Horan.

Healy and Wallace are the only actual changes from the run-on team which won the Grand Slam in Cardiff last March.

Munster-man John Hayes has gone straight back into the side after a five week suspension, interestingly for stomping Healy.

Apart from Healy and Paddy Wallace, every run-on player in the Irish team was selected for the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, although a couple were subsequently injured and never made it.

This team is one seriously good outfit with no apparent weaknesses in the set piece and loads of physicality at the breakdown. Their lineout is outstanding.

The only real question mark is the staying power of underdone Hayes and Flannery.

They’ve also got talent to burn in the backs. The Lion’s form of BO’D, Kearney, Bowe and Fitzgerald mid-year was terrific.

However, not everyone is in form. Out-half RO’G has not been travelling well for Munster and there’s speculation that he might have been be replaced by Jonathan Sexton from Leinster.

Uncapped Sexton and hooker Sean Cronin from Connacht are the two new caps. It’s also good to see the exciting young Keith Earls back.

It’s BO’D’s 100th international test match so we should expect some emotion from the crowd and perhaps fireworks from him.

Les Kiss is Ireland’s defensive coach. He’ll be needing to sharpen up his troops to contain a young and exciting Wallabies backline desperate for Grand Slam success.

Ireland are one of the Wallabies pool opponents in the RWC2011, so it could be an early pointer to where each team are currently heading.

The weather forecast has picked up and the rain will have stopped by Sunday, although it’ll probably be heavy underfoot.

I’m picking RO’G’s superior kicking game to get Ireland home by 5.

Ireland: Rob ‘Ray’ Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Paddy Wallace, Luke Fitzgerald, Ronan O’Gara, Tomas O’Leary, Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, John Hayes, Jerry Flannery, Cian Healy.

Reserves: Sean Cronin, Tom Court,  Leo Cullin, Denis Leamy, Eoin Reddan,  Jonathan Sexton, Keith Earls

TV Fox Sports 2/Channel 10 Live – 2.00am Monday 16 November AEST.

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