Darren Cave could be playing his final Guinness PRO14 match in a long, distinguished Ulster career when Southern Kings come to the Kingspan Stadium this evening.
The 31-year-old, 11-times capped Ireland centre, will be making his 224th appearance for an Ulster side that sees coach Dan McFarland make five changes from the one that saw off the Dragons last time out. None of the current Ireland squad will start with scrum-half Dave Shanahan the only change behind the scrum, but international John Cooney is on the bench.
The other four changes are up front, with loosehead Andy Warwick coming in along with lock Ian Nagle, flanker Matty Rea, and Marcell Coetzee, the big barnstorming No 8 who has not played since the win over Leicester in January.
Cave’s contract is up at the end of the season, and so far he has not made up his mind about which direction to take. At present he is five appearances off Andrew Trimble’s Ulster record, and the management team may encourage him to stay put for another season. He has made 13 appearances this season, and this could be a very important penultimate home game, particularly with Leinster, the final encounter of the regular PRO14 season.
“I love playing as much as I ever did. I do not take it for granted because there was probably a time in the middle of my career where I thought I was going to be playing for ever. Now, I’m not sure how close the end is,” said Cave.
L Ludik; R Baloucoune, D Cave, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Burns, S Shanahan; A Warwick, R Herring, M Moore, A O’Connor (capt), I Nagle, M Rea, N Timoney, M Coetzee.
J Andrew, W Herbst, T O’Toole, K Treadwell, C Ross, J Cooney, M Lowry, A Kernohan.
U Beyers; Y Penxe, M Rokoua, T Kruger, B Basson; B Pretorius, S Ungerer; A Tshakweni, M Willemse, DJ Terblanche, A Van Schalkwyk, J-C Astle, HBrown, M Burger, R Lerm.
A A Van Rooyen, S Ferreira, L Mguca, S Greeff, A Ntsila, R Van Rooyen, M Banda, H Klaasen.