Who are Ulster's top players of the past decade?
As the decade draws to a close, we're looking back at an eventful 10 years at Kingspan Stadium. Over the next three weeks, we'll be asking you to help us pick our Ulster team of the decade, with the blindside flankers up for review today.
It's no exaggeration to describe Stephen Ferris as a generational talent. As the decade began he was coming off a tour to South Africa that, if not for injury, surely would have saw him join Tommy Bowe as the province's only Test Lions since Jeremy Davidson in 1997. An absolute wrecking ball of a player, Ferris was at his destructive best when tucking the ball under his arm and exploding into contact or putting his sizeable frame between an opposition carrier and the gainline. As his lifting of Will Genia in Ireland's 2011 Rugby World Cup pool game showed, smaller players were taking a real risk running at the formidable blindside. There's little doubting that 'Man and Ball' was an appropriate title for his interesting autobiography. Superb during Ulster's run to the 2012 Heineken Cup final, unfortunately injuries would curtail his career and, following an ankle injury in November of that year, he would play only four more times for his native province before retiring in 2014. He was only 28-years-old when he hung up the boots, after a career that saw him make 106 appearances for the province and a further 35 for Ireland. Even in his injury-plagued later days, he still provided some memorable moments, none more so than the first tackle of his long-awaited comeback game in 2014.
Primarily a number eight through the first half of his career with Ulster and Northampton, after his return from England in the summer of 2012, he played plenty of blindside in a pack that also contained Nick Williams. Often under-appreciated, perhaps because he spent his peak years in the Premiership, Wilson was a remarkably durable and hard-working player, putting an early injury behind him to become an important figure during his second spell at Kingspan Stadium. The phrase "unseen work" can often feel a bit of a cliche but Wilson was a forward whose best attribute was arguably how he allowed those around him to excel. Far from flash but a player who did everything well, he retired in 2017 by setting a new record for Ulster caps. His 221 has since been eclipsed by both Andrew Trimble and Darren Cave but is all the more impressive considering he also racked up a century of outing for Northampton too. Would have surely won many more than the solitary cap he managed if not for the near unbroken streak of Jamie Heaslip's selection at the base of Ireland's scrum.
Would not have possessed the ballast boasted by the likes of Ferris or Wilson but Diack was an athletic and rangy presence in the Ulster back-row. Arriving from the Stormers in 2008, he was the first player born outside the province to pull on the white jersey more than 200 times, eventually finishing up on 206, his last in the Champions Cup play-off against the Ospreys in 2018. Capable of playing in the second-row too, Diack's spells at blindside saw the province boosted with an extra line-out option. Qualified to play for Ireland on residency, he made two appearances for the Wolfhounds and his Test debut under Joe Schmidt came at six against Argentina in Resistencia after the 2013/14 campaign. Played once more for Ireland, against Georgia in November 2014.