Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Ireland call is Diack's dream

Robbie Diack knows from experience how difficult it will be to triumph in Galway tonight
Robbie Diack knows from experience how difficult it will be to triumph in Galway tonight

While all his immediate focus is on tonight's PRO12 clash with Connacht in Galway, there is also so much else to ponder for Ulster's Robbie Diack.

Right now Diack is probably playing his best rugby since Matt Williams signed him from the Stormers nearly five years ago and, as such, the versatile and Irish qualified back rower is being widely touted as a player who should make Ireland's tour to North America and even win some caps should Jamie Heaslip be away on Lions duty.

It's good to be noticed and getting the nod to be part of some of the preparations for Declan Kidney's last few games in charge during the Six Nations was a particularly pleasing move after Diack's earlier exclusion from the Wolfhounds squad seemed to suggest that his chances of involvement were on the slim side.

"It has been in the back of my mind," Diack says regarding the possibility of being involved in Ireland's summer tour, before quickly getting back on message.

"But with regards to Ulster there is so much to play for.

"We have one goal and one goal only. We hope to go to Connacht and have a good game and hopefully go on to secure a home (PRO12) semi-final."

And as if all that wasn't enough, tonight will see the 27-year-old Johannesburg native make his 99th appearance in an Ulster shirt.

It's a tricky number to hit though and only seems to have galvanised him to ensure that, come the 100th, he is actually still in the team selected by Mark Anscombe.

"I have to make sure I stay in the Ulster team before I can think of anything else," he says, also applying the same logic to his plans for the summer.

And should Ireland call upon Diack to jet out in June, he will also have something else to consider as his other life as a part-time marketing student – he is studying via correspondence at the University of South Africa – means he is due to sit exams in Dublin at around about the same time.

Mind you, when it comes to possibly wearing the green jersey over turning up at an examination hall, there really is only one winner.

"My main focus is rugby and I'd never let anything get in the way of that," Diack states.

"If it means missing a few exams, well, I might have to do that and catch them up at another stage."

And the rugby has been good. With Pedrie Wannenburg gone and both Stephen Ferris and Roger Wilson injured, a thankfully fit Diack not only had to step up to the plate this season but also needed to show Anscombe that his presence had something to offer, regardless of what position he found himself playing.

Diack has delivered to show that he is both versatile – even playing second row with some aplomb – and durable as well as bringing a greater work-rate and dynamism to his game.

"I didn't expect it but I've taken the opportunity with both hands and in this team you have to take any opportunity with the amount of depth we have," he says of his stint as a lock.

While he has flourished there has, nevertheless, been disappointment and being on the bench for the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Saracens was hardly offset by his eye-catching impact after coming on for the injured Johann Muller.

"We were very disappointed with the Saracens result but the thing about it was we could fully refocus our mind-set on the Rabo (RaboDirect PRO12 League).

"We know we have everything to play for in this competition now that we have no Heineken Cup to worry about," is Diack's take on the only remaining opportunity to land silverware.

And at least Ulster are in control of their own destiny – the main focus now is on nailing down a home semi-final – though Diack has been around long enough to know that winning in Connacht can never be taken for granted.

He was part of the side which lost at the Sportsground last season when so much was being invested in Ulster's Heineken Cup campaign and still recalls the pain of that experience.

"We know what to expect," is Diack's view, while mentioning that the fickle western weather may also have a bearing on how things pan out before focusing on his own priorities.

"The game time for me has been fantastic, my confidence has really grown and I have been able to work on things that I haven't been able to work on in the past.

"The main thing for me is I have been given the opportunity to play."

The chance for more high achievement is there to be taken.

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