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Ulster's Robbie Diack fired up and determined to repay Les Kiss' faith

Ulster ace keen to prove point

By Michael Sadlier

Published 30/12/2015

Eyes on the prize: Robbie Diack wants Ulster to maintain their momentum and carry their form into the business end of the season
Eyes on the prize: Robbie Diack wants Ulster to maintain their momentum and carry their form into the business end of the season

He undoubtedly won't have enjoyed revisiting the moment in the first-half against Connacht when Kieran Marmion - the Westerners' scrum-half and smallest player - lined him up before resoundingly burying him into the dirt.

It wasn't one of Robbie Diack's finest moments but was only a brief distraction on another notable shift of hard toil which further helped reconstruct the long-serving Irish-qualified South African's reputation as a player with something wholly positive to offer.

Indeed, not only is the 30-year-old giving Les Kiss a very useful lineout option but his versatility was also firmly on show in last weekend's 10-3 triumph as he started at blindside flanker before moving to openside and finishing the game in the second row alongside Franco van der Merwe.

Diack's 80 minutes at the Sportsground was his third consecutive full game, after putting in two high profile efforts in the back-to-back European victories over Toulouse, so Kiss may yet be of a mind to rest him for Saturday's next inter-provincial derby with Munster.

"I've been in the squad and not selected so just to be able to be selected is fantastic," the 160-times capped Ulster player said before addressing his notable ability to play different positions.

"For me to be able to cover those positions makes the coaches' jobs that bit easier knowing I can cover a couple or more positions.

"You look at guys who can play six and lock such as Iain Henderson and you can see how successful a career he's going to have covering both."

Henderson's misfortune has left the door ajar for Diack who has been with Ulster since 2008 and found himself being in and out of the side on frequent occasions.

For the two-times capped Ireland international - he qualified to play in green in 2011 on residency grounds but had to wait until 2014 for his first cap in Argentina - the confidence Kiss has shown in him has helped re-energise his career and might yet bring him back into Joe Schmidt's wider squad for the Six Nations.

"Les has come in and shown a huge amount of confidence in me and I feel that I owe it to him to play well," the Johannesburg native said. "He's not reinventing the wheel, he's just picking up little things and details.

"He's changing small things in our attack and defence and that level of attention should make a difference."

After four straight victories, which have breathed new life into both their European and PRO12 campaigns, there is a real sense that Ulster are on an upward curve.

"I think Ulster are definitely in a good space at the moment," stated Diack. "The way we are playing reflects the way we are feeling.

"As a group of players we're getting close to where we feel we need to be."

It all sounds great but there is still a significant swathe of the season to go and Munster rack up at the Kingspan on Saturday desperate to avoid a damaging six defeats in a row.

Still, Ulster have a pretty bullet-proof record in Belfast and haven't lost a league game since May 2014 when Leinster got the better of them. Diack, though, chooses to focus on how Ulster need to make sure they are still producing towards the back end of the campaign.

"We haven't had the best start to the season but people don't remember the start, they remember the finish," he said. "When Mark Anscombe was here I think we won 14 out of 14 but did we win any silverware? No.

"We've started off seasons well but had injuries then struggled but I feel with the depth we have it will hopefully not be the case this year."

He has a point as Ulster have been notably hitting the mark and have been managing it without a raft of injured frontline players.

"I think we have to put our hands up now and prove ourselves and there is a lot of pressure on us this season to do well," Diack pointed out.

Right now, they seem to be coping.

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