Battle scarred Ulster in fight to finish as Diack joins injury list
An ankle ligaments injury to blindside flanker Robbie Diack has taken some of the shine off Ulster's 58-12 rout of Connacht on Friday night at Ravenhill.
Diack suffered the left ankle injury in the opening minutes and at this stage Ulster do not know how long he is likely to be sidelined.
Already the season is over for Ruan Pienaar and Rory Best while Dan Tuohy and Roger Wilson are about to undergo surgery to rectify a fractured hand and thumb respectively. So with the table highlighting the importance of this Friday night's game against Glasgow at Scotstoun, the last thing Ulster needed was a fresh injury concern.
"It was unfortunate to lose Robbie the way we did," coach Mark Anscombe said. "With Dan and Roger both going under the knife this week, Robbie's pretty important to us, so fingers crossed the scan doesn't reveal too much damage.
"It's pretty swollen, so I don't know how long it's going to be. Hopefully it's not too bad."
Ulster's bonus-point win in which Andrew Trimble scored his first-ever hat-trick and Paul Marshall (2), Tommy Bowe, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy chipped in with tries apiece, coupled with events at Liberty Stadium and Thomond Park made it a very significant weekend in the PRO12 race.
With Leinster having gone down 25-19 to Ospreys in Swansea and Munster losing 22-5 to Glasgow Warriors the following night in Limerick, Ulster are right back in the hunt for a top two finish and a home semi-final.
Now it's a case of a fixture list in one hand and a calculator in the other. A real test of nerve.
Prior to Friday night's Ravenhill date with Connacht, Anscombe spoke of needing to get back on the figurative horse following a painful fall in their Heineken Cup clash with Saracens.
Ulster climbed into the metaphoric saddle and proceeded to ride roughshod over their western rivals. That 46-point gulf equalled Ulster's biggest-ever winning margin in this competition – 63-17 against Reivers on May 12, 2006 in what was the now-defunct Scottish Borders' outfit's penultimate match before they ceased to be.
Ulster scored nine tries in that Ravenhill rout eight years ago, their best-ever tally in the competition. On Friday night they managed eight.
Connacht coach Pat Lam was magnanimous, saying: "All credit to Ulster; they were hurting from last week and they came out and made the most of the opportunities we gave them."
His counterpart reckoned how and where Ulster finish now comes down to mental strength.
"The fact is it's not about the training sessions now – it's about getting into the right headspace," Anscombe said.
And while he was happy with Ulster's response to their Heineken Cup exit, saying: "We don't have a great track record of bouncing back from big European games, so it was pleasing today," – typically, it was not unqualified pleasure.
"I should be here glowing – 58 points and however many tries we scored. But it was a funny game; they'd make a mistake, we'd make a mistake and you'd be getting frustrated. And then we'd score and that would get you over your frustration a bit," he said.
"It was always going to be a difficult game so to win it the way we did was pleasing. But we know there are areas we've got to fix up."
On a brighter note, Anscombe was delighted with the performance of loose-head, Andy Warwick, who got his first start in a competitive match as an Ulster senior.
"I thought he was outstanding," Anscombe said. "He scrums during the week at training superbly. I thought he and Ricky Lutton were outstanding. They were rock-solid and that bodes well for the future.
"And to see another young guy like Stuart McCloskey come off the bench is positive and exciting."
With now-smarting Connacht hosting Munster on Saturday night when the visitors' minds may well be on the following week's Heineken Cup semi-final with Toulon in Marseilles, Anscombe hopes those two factors will combine to do Ulster a favour.
"I know Pat Lam pretty well and I know he'll be hurting after tonight so those boys are going to be up for next week. So how do Munster approach that? Going to be interesting," he ventured.