Midfield pair out to make mark

NEW ZEALAND might be far away in many senses for Darren Cave and Eoin O’Malley right now, but Ireland’s potential future centre partnership have more pressing issues back home.

The absence of the big guns who are about to embark on their World Cup odyssey has thrust more responsibility on the duo’s shoulders, as they look to find early-season form in the RaboDirect Pro12.

Ulster midfield man Cave is just 24 but is looking to make up for lost time, and will partner Nevin Spence against Aironi in Viadana tomorrow (3pm).

With the arrival of Auckland Blues star Jared Payne this week, the clash gives Cave a further chance to cement his place in the side after an injury-plagued last season.

The Belfast-born centre is keen to battle on and hopeful of further international call-ups. “Brian O’Driscoll cannot continue indefinitely. At some point in the not too distant future there is going to be a green 13 jersey up for grabs and it’s very wide open in terms of who’s going to replace him,” said Cave.

O’Malley is in a similar position at Leinster, where he also has to contend with O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy and Fergus McFadden in his battle to nail down a regular starting spot.

Joe Schmidt’s youthful outfit were humbled by the Ospreys in Wales last week, and the 23-year-old O’Malley admits more responsibility is falling on him as Leinster prepare to lock horns with Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS this evening (7.35).

“I suppose there’s a bit of responsibility on myself and guys who have been around a bit longer, like Straussy (Richardt Strauss) and Isa (Nacewa).”

With Luke Fitzgerald ruled out, Brendan Macken steps into the centre to partner O’Malley. Schmidt has also switched his wingers around, with Fionn Carr starting on the right and David Kearney on the left. The pack is unchanged from the Ospreys game.

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has made one change from last week’s opening victory over Glasgow, with Tim Barker coming in for Lewis Stevenson in the second row.

LEINSTER (v Dragons): I Nacewa; F Carr, B Macken, E O’Malley, D Kearney; I Madigan, C Willis; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, J Hagan, D Browne, D Toner, K McLaughlin, D Ryan, R Ruddock (capt).

Replacements: A Dundon, J McGrath, J O’Connell/N White, M Flanagan, L Auva’a, J Cooney, M Berquist, D Hudson.

ULSTER (v Aironi): A D’Arcy; C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, I Whitten; I Humphreys, P Marshall; P McAllister, A Kyriacou, J Cronin, T Barker, D Tuohy, P Wannenburg, W Faloon, C Henry.

Replacements: N Brady, D Fitzpatrick, A Macklin, L Stevenson, R Diack, I Porter, P Jackson, L Marshall.

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