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Ulster's Robbie Diack feels for irish mates

By Michael Sadlier

Even though all the dust thrown up on Sunday has now somewhat settled, that day's events are still proving to be a central talking point around Ravenhill.

It's hardly surprising, really, after such a sensational explosion of high drama and major heartache for all those who were wearing green. Yes, that game when Ireland, at last, looked certain to finally have the beating of New Zealand – with the clock having even turned red for goodness sake – only for it to end in total wreckage.

Robbie Diack looked on in as much disbelief as the rest of us, but the prevailing image of last Sunday came later when he caught up with the returned Declan Fitzpatrick – who came off the bench for the last 20 minutes or so – and the prop described the Ireland dressing room afterwards as being a place simply laid waste by the devastation of such dramatic defeat.

Diack shakes his head and says, "I can only imagine how they felt.

"It was an incredible game to watch. They gave absolutely everything they had and to come away by losing that game must be devastating.

"To be 19-0 up and to play such good attacking rugby and then to lose in the manner they did, well, you just can't comprehend that."

It turns out that the 28-year-old South African native, who is Irish qualified, is familiar with several of the All Blacks side which, on Sunday, achieved a new record of going through a calendar year unbeaten.

During his time with the Stormers, just prior to hooking up with Ulster back in 2008, he came up against Richie McCaw and Kieran Read as well as Andrew Hore and Liam Messam.

He's seen New Zealand rugby close up and is as good a guide as any to explain just why they are so darn good.

"I remember them being very powerful and very clinical," he says of his experiences against McCaw et al.

"Typically with New Zealand teams, the basics are done absolutely perfectly.

"And I don't think they are exceptionally flashy, or faster and stronger than you, it's just that they do those basics so well," he adds, before again returning to events in Dublin at the weekend.

"You never saw them really panic once in that game," and herein, he argues, is another crucial factor in how things panned out.

It almost seems a shame to call time in this discussion but there is, after all, an Ulster game fast approaching which is why Diack is sitting in Ravenhill.

Ulster play Zebre on Saturday in the PRO12 just over a week after Diack skippered the side for the first time in their 41-17 bonus point win over Edinburgh. With candidates to lead looking rather thin on the ground, the mantle fell to Diack who clearly enjoyed the added responsibility and even scored a try as Ulster crossed the Scots' line five times.

"It was a huge honour for me to captain this team and the fact that we came away with a win was really important, that was a very major concern for me."

"If it happens again I'll gladly accept it and hopefully lead by example," he adds while mentioning that usual skipper Johann Muller may yet make it back to take over for the trip to Italy which comes just prior to the pivotal back-to-back Heineken Cup clashes with Treviso.

But, right now, things are looking up for Diack who wore the Irish shirt for the first time over the summer when playing for Emerging Ireland at the Tbilisi Cup.

Last month, he signed up for three more years at Ravenhill and though he has struggled in the past to hold down a regular starting spot, Diack has shown Mark Anscombe his worth through his notable versatility and ability to play number eight, flanker or second row.

"I've been here five and-a-half years and I feel comfortable here," is how the Johannesburg player looks at it, "so to be here another three is just fantastic."

Diack has some unfinished business after last May's PRO12 final against Leinster when not only was he embarrassingly held up over the line when a try looked certain but he also managed to pick up a costly yellow card.

"Personally, it wasn't a great game for me," Diack says. "That still hurts quite a lot and the only way to fix it is on the rugby field. Hopefully we can get some silverware this year."

A win at Zebre and another big game from Diack will all help as part of his own healing process.

Right now, though, he's a good bit further down the road of his rehabilitation than Ulster's torn and frayed Irish contingent.

Belfast Telegraph

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