Switch back to PRO12 no problem for Ulster: Diack
Published 24/10/2013 | 10:00
Robbie Diack can see no good reason why Ulster should find it difficult to switch from Heineken Cup mode back to the hurly-burly of the RaboDirect PRO12.
Defeats in their two PRO12 games of 2013-14 have given way to five successive wins – three in the bread and butter series followed by two in Europe. As a result, Ulster lead their Heineken Cup pool as well as having climbed to the fourth of the dozen rungs in the PRO12 ladder.
They are on a good run right now and depending on the outcome of this weekend's PRO12 matches, they could climb again.
The other side of the coin is that tomorrow night's opponents, Cardiff Blues, will travel to Belfast with considerable optimism, too, after lowering the colours of Heineken Cup holders, Toulon, last time out.
"Great teams need to produce back-to-back performances, no matter what the competition is or whatever opposition you are playing," Diack reasons. "Cardiff had a fantastic win last week, so I think, like us, they're going to have a lot of momentum and a huge amount of self-belief, too.
"We've just to keep on building on this momentum we have created. We have two more weeks of hard work before we get a bit of a break for the (autumn) internationals, so we want to make these games count."
To that end the Johannesburg-born, 6ft 5in, 17st 5lb back row forward has no doubts about Ulster's ability to stayed focused, grounded and motivated in the wake of those two big wins over Leicester Tigers and Montpellier. It seems he and his colleagues just want to keep playing right now. Cardiff Blues? That will do just fine.
"There is a huge amount of self-belief in this team at the moment so we're excited about this game," he says. "Hopefully we will play well again this Friday night and keep things going forward."
His use – on two occasions – of the noun, self-belief, is significant, his confidence in himself having come flooding back after a period in the wilderness during the latter stages of Brian McLaughlin's term as Ulster's head coach. The second half of 2011-12 was not a good time in Diack's career.
Now, though, he is back to his best and has just been rewarded with a new three-year contract. Asked what has changed he replies: "Just the fact that I have been playing a lot more and have been given the opportunity to gain my own momentum and get my own self-belief back.
"I had that period a couple of years ago when I wasn't playing and if you aren't playing you can't build on anything.
"It has been unfortunate that Stevie Ferris has not been playing and I hope he is back soon, but that has given me my opportunity to play a bit more and to get into the momentum.
"If you're involved you are happy, if you aren't involved then you are unhappy about it."
The pressure for places in the Ulster back row has never been greater. Another vying for inclusion is 21-year-old Irish international Iain Henderson, of whom Diack – 28 in just over two weeks – says: "He's a fantastic player who can play anywhere in the back row and also the second row. I can see him being capped many times for Ireland."
Now Irish-qualified under the IRB's residency rules, Diack was a member of the Emerging Ireland squad for the Tblisi Cup in Georgia during the summer.