Belfast Telegraph

Hurt driving Robbie Diack in last bid for glory

By Niall Crozier

Robbie Diack knows that with Ulster now out of the Heineken Cup – a competition they had genuinely believed they would win – the danger now is that their season could just whither away.

But the big Irish-qualified South African is determined that will not happen. As he sees it, Ulster's response to last Saturday night's shattering disappointment in their European quarter-final defeat to Saracens cannot be allowed to render all the blood, toil, sweat and tears worthless and meaningless.

There is still a RaboDirect PRO12 title to be won, so get up and get this show back on the road is the paraphrased version of 10 minutes spent one-to-one in his company.

Tonight's crucial inter-pro clash with Connacht at Ravenhill provides Ulster with an ideal opportunity to do just that.

"The players are still hurting; I think Saturday night proved that the Heineken Cup meant a lot more to us than we had imagined," he said.

"To play in that match, in front of that crowd and to lose in that manner was gut-wrenching.

"We knew we'd put in a good shift; I was only on for the last 12 minutes, but the players who were there before me put in an incredible amount of work, so I just felt they deserved to win for what they had done.

"To come off that field after losing was just a terrible feeling. Even though everyone was so proud of us, the bottom line was that we'd still lost the game and we were out of the Heineken Cup."

But the redoubtable Diack, who has been outstanding for Ulster this season, was in no mood to dwell on the energy-sapping post-mortem. Upwards and onwards.

"We're still involved in the Rabo and we've got a fighting chance of winning that," said the 28-year-old who has captained Ulster on four times this season, with three of those matches ending in victory.

"The best place we can rectify things is on the field and now we have an opportunity to do that in a big game against Connacht.

"We've trained well and we're looking forward to the game. Getting a good win would ease the pain a bit."

Diack knows that will not be easy, for in his own words: "Connacht are a team on the up who have been in good form recently, so this is a huge game for us."

In the wake of a defeat as painful as that Heineken Cup exit, it cannot be easy for players to find themselves being pushed back over the top a mere six days later, but Diack views that as something positive.

"I think it's easier to do it that way," he said.

"You don't want to dwell on things too much. Yes, there is hurt and disappointment, but the great thing is that with there being a game on Friday night we can change our focus by concentrating on what is in front of us rather than behind us.

"This allows us to re-direct our frustration and put all our energy into something else.

"That is why I'm looking forward to this game; it is a chance for us to get out there and play rugby again and at the end of the day that is our job, that is what we are here to do."

Even in the midst of frustration and disappointment bordering on despair – to say nothing of injuries to Rory Best, John Afoa, Dan Tuohy, Roger Wilson and Ruan Pienaar, plus the suspension of Jared Payne for this and next weekend's match against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun – Diack sees a glass half full rather than 50 per cent empty.

"We have six or seven guys out, but that gives a huge opportunity for others to come in, make their mark and put their hand up," he said.

"We have a very, very tough run-in, but we've got the squad to do it. We have worked hard and we don't want to let all of that count for nothing.

"People maybe think Connacht at home is the easiest of our four matches, but they have a great pack of forwards and a very strong scrum, so they have been getting some very good results recently.

"And they have some excellent backs as well, so I'm expecting a very tough match."

Talk of tough matches brings us back round full circle to last weekend's battle with Saracens and how hard it has been to deal with a defeat sustained in such cruel circumstances.

"The hurt is still there," he said quietly, without elaboration. In truth, none was required.

Then finally he added: "It just showed what playing for Ulster means to the players and also the fans.

"It is something very special to be allowed to play in this team and to represent this province."

His conviction is that those players and fans deserve a trophy, which is why the prospect of landing one continues to drive him on.

"We desperately want to get silverware and finish this season on a massive high," Diack said.

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