Robbie Diack has stepped in as Ulster captain whenever Johann Muller or Rory Best have missed matches. INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Robbie Diack patrolling the blindside as new contract awaits Stephen Ferris

The Irish-qualified flanker says Ulster have taken last weekend’s defeat to Leinster on the chin.

ULSTER’S REGULAR FITNESS updates have ceased including the name of Stephen Ferris, of late, yet the combative flanker is never far from the mind’s of Irish rugby supporters.

With Sean O’Brien [shoulder surgery] likely to miss the first three games of the Six Nations, Ireland fans are looking north for news of the ball-carrying dynamo. Ulster’s medical and fitness staff have set no date for the flanker’s return but Ferris will be desperate to play at some stage of this season.

The 28-year-old has been out of action since injuring his ankle against Glasgow Warriors in November 2012. Ulster and the IRFU worked out a six-month contract for Ferris as he remained in Belfast to work on his fitness. That contract runs out on 1 January but the province should get approval to extend the deal. An official announcement is expected at the end of this week.

The player who has benefitted — as one man always does when misfortune favours a teammate — is Robbie Diack. The Johannesburg-born flanker is midway through his sixth season at Ulster but a regular starter since 2012/13.

imageStephen Ferris and Robbie Diack combine to tackle Cardiff’s Jamie Robinson in 2009. INPHO/Presseye/Darren Kidd

In the absence of Johann Muller and Rory Best, Diack captained the province against Leinster at the weekend. Ulster dearly missed the presence of Chris Henry, Best and Muller as they lost the breakdown battle in a 19-6 reversal. Diack is determined that wrong will be put right when Munster come to town on Friday.

He said, “Those guys are fantastic on the floor and that is what makes them such special players. Having those guys in your team is a big help but I don’t think the [Leinster] players around there… they are also very good on the floor. I think we need to have a look at the video and see where we went wrong.”

The breakdown was a bit of a disaster for Ulster at the weekend, with Mark Anscombe’s men either ceding the battle to Leinster’s forwards or getting penalised when they showed some fight. “[The referee] warned us early on, which took away our confidence attacking on the floor,” Diack admitted.

The 116-game veteran says it is a fantastic honour to captain Ulster but he would be happy to hand over those duties to Muller or Henry, should either return to start against Munster. Motivation will not be an issue, he adds, with Ravenhill already sold-out for Friday’s clash with the league leaders.

“That is very easy,” he declared. “It’s an interpro in Ravenhill. It is very easy to lift for that kind of game and with the hurt from tonight there is going to be a big reaction this week… We’ll take this on the chin and we’ll know there will be a reaction.”

– Additional reporting by Murray Kinsella

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