Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Diack happy to fit into new role

Robbie Diack (left) will start in the second row against Zebre, after coming on a substitute in that position in Ulster's last outing against Edinburgh as coach Mark Anscombe mixes and matches for his absent internationals

Robbie Diack has made his reputation as an Ulster loose forward.

Jersey numbers six or eight to be more precise.

On Sunday, however, when Ulster face Zebre at Stadio XXV Aprile in Parma, he will pack down in the engine-room alongside Neil McComb.

With normal captain Johann Muller and Lewis Stevenson both sidelined through injury and Dan Tuohy on Ireland duty, McComb is the only out-and-out second row left. In the circumstances, Diack has had to adapt.

It will not be a wholly new experience for Ulster’s Irish-qualified South African. Diack got a taste of the role two weeks ago when he replaced Stevenson just before half-time in the RaboDirect PRO12 leaders’ last outing, the 45-20 rout of Edinburgh at Ravenhill.

“I like to play loose forward, six or eight,” he admits. “But the nature of the game at the moment is that if I can play six, seven, eight, four or five, I will. I’ll play anywhere just to be involved in this team.”

His set-piece contribution is going to be vital on Sunday (kick-off 2pm GMT) and he is confident he is up to the challenge.

“Obviously I have worked on my line-out skills a lot in the past couple of years and they have really improved a lot.

“I have taken a lot of ball there and working beside guys like Dan and Neil has helped me.”

He highlights the others who will be expected to win ball out of touch, too.

“We’ve still got height in there,” says the 6ft 5ins South African.

“You’ve got Neil, Mike McComish is good at jumping, Roger Wilson is good at jumping so there still are a lot of options even though we’re missing Johann and Dan and Lewis.”

In addition to his set-piece work, Diack is a good carrier, too.

As he sees it, that facet of his game need not suffer because he is in the tight five rather than the loose trio.

“Obviously I enjoy carrying and hopefully this weekend that is something I will be able to do and give that dimension to the team,” he says.

“But just to be involved in a different position this weekend will be good for me as it will enable me to add to my skills.”

Despite Ulster’s injuries and non-availability, Diack has no concerns over the ability of the remaining players to cope in the absence of some of the bigger names.

“When you look at the team we have guys like John Afoa, Nigel Brady, Nick Williams, Roger Wilson, Paddy Wallace and Neil McComb who has played a fair bit this season, it is very different to the way things were a couple of years ago,” he adds.

“There is great depth there now, which isn’t how it used to be. Now we have those experienced guys playing beside the talented younger players and that is very exciting.”

Diack himself is a hugely experienced operator; this will be his 82nd Ulster appearance.

His return to fitness after a frustrating period on the sidelines through injury could not have been better-timed from an Ulster perspective.

At a personal level, too, it happened at just the right moment.

Like most players, watching is not something he enjoys.

Two months is too long as a spectator for a model professional who had his 27th birthday on Tuesday

“I was hugely frustrated,” he admits. “I’d had a great pre-season and I went well in that first game against Glasgow. Then I was injured.

“I think the timing of the whole thing was a bit of a mess-up for me. I was doing well and then suddenly I was not able to play.

“But I’ve worked hard, I’ve come back and so now I’m really motivated to play. I got 45 minutes against Edinburgh, which was great, and now I feel I’ve got a massive point to prove.

“I want to show Mark (Anscombe, the Ulster coach) what I can do and hopefully make his life as difficult as possible once he’s seen what I can offer to the team in the future.”

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