Belfast Telegraph

Ulster are thriving under the pressure, says Diack

Long-serving Robbie ready

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster are in win or bust mode now so there is no attempting to smokescreen the tension around the place.

If Ulster are to taste their baseline requirement of knockout rugby again this year then they have to gather up two more victories to retain control of copper-fastening their place in the top four.

And that starts on Saturday at the Ospreys. Anything other than a win looks like it will spell the end of fifth-placed Ulster's hopes of elbowing their way into the top four.

Just to add to the edgy atmosphere, the Ospreys - in fourth and a point ahead of Les Kiss' squad - are in a similar position as they seek to stay in a play-off position and prevent Ulster from leap-frogging them.

So this clash has huge implications riding on it. The result, assuming there is a winner, looks like it will determine the fortunes of both sides going into the final weekend of regular games.

And when we get there, next week, Ulster will be finishing the regular season with a home game with Leinster - who have already claimed a home semi-final - while the Ospreys are at third-placed Scarlets with the west Wales side also seeking to secure their knockout place.

All told, then, this is a time for cool heads and experienced operators to come to the fore. And there is no doubting that a team tends to have a close encounter with its true worth at this stage of the season when the pressure becomes white hot.

Robbie Diack, who, after nearly nine years at Ulster, brings just the sort of experience the squad will need at this time, said: "Yes, these two games are massive for us. But we're looking forward to these two games and we all actually enjoy playing under pressure.

"I think it brings out the best in us and especially with the guys we have here."

Diack - the South African will be making his 192nd appearance for the province - is not contemplating anything other than another victory over in Wales to sit alongside last season's thumping result from the final game of the campaign, a result which secured fourth place for Kiss' men 12 months ago.

"We played them in that last game and had a good performance over there," the two-time capped Ireland international recalled.

"Yes, we've been in this situation before (needing wins to squeeze into the top four) and we've dealt well with the pressure of getting ourselves into play-off positions (he also remarked that it's actually at the semi-final stages where the province have really struggled).

"Hopefully we can create some momentum from this game and we know what a task it's going to be over there, especially in their own stadium, and the team that they're likely to have."

Indeed, the Ospreys are hoping to have Dan Biggar back on board for this critical encounter after the Wales out-half missed out last time in their defeat to Cardiff Blues.

If passed fit, Biggar will join fellow forthcoming Lions tourists Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb - Alun Wyn Jones is still sidelined - in what will be a formidable line-up even though the Welsh side have lost their last four games.

"When you're playing a wounded team, and they're hurting, it's a very dangerous place for us," stated the 31-year-old who can cover lock and back row.

"We have to go there and expect a fierce reaction from them. They are under pressure and we've all got something to play for in this game."

And Diack reckons that the narrow defeat at Munster two weeks ago will stand to the squad for this weekend even though Jared Payne, Chris Henry, Darren Cave and Clive Ross will all be absent.

"We had a hard look at the Munster game where we actually thought we played well," added the Johannesburg-born star.

"There were individual errors that we pinpointed and things we can fix which is a good thing for us as a collective.

"If we can string phases together and open up the Ospreys' defence like we did to Munster, then we feel we can do it this weekend.

"We're going to the Ospreys with a mindset to give it our all but it will be a huge test for us."

Tense times indeed.

Belfast Telegraph

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