Darren Cave eyes a big finale for Ulster before he hangs up the boots
Just over a year ago Darren Cave scored a valuable try at BT Murrayfield to secure a bonus point win over Edinburgh and keep Ulster’s hopes of European Champions Cup qualification alive.
As he now draws near to the end of a wonderful 13-year career with the Irish Province, if he can repeat that feat on Friday night against the Scottish side at the same venue he would receive a big welcome from the fans on his return to Belfast.
Any win against Edinburgh would as good as secure Ulster a place in the Guinness PRO14 play-offs - and if other results went in their favour they could secure a home tie in the first phase of knockout games.
Having lost in Scotland last weekend to Glasgow, 30-7, Ulster still remain in second place in Conference B of the PRO14, but fourth place Edinburgh were able to cut their deficit from seven to three points with a win at Scarlets.
Third placed Benetton remain in the mix for those final two play-off spots and automatic qualification for the Heineken Cup after their surprise 27-all draw in Dublin against Conference B winners Leinster.
The Italians entertain Munster, also on Friday night, and with the Irish Province locked in a battle with Glasgow for top spot in Conference A and a home semi-final in the PRO14 Championship it is an equally massive fixture.
Ulster are going to an Edinburgh side who since that loss to them in April last year, having only lost one game at home in the PRO14 since then.
Both had suffered European Champions Cup quarter-final losses, Edinburgh at home to Munster and Ulster to Leinster in Dublin.
Ulster centre Cave, who was attending a Kingspan Coaching Masterclass at Portadown’s Edenderry Primary School on Tuesday, said that while the 21-18 loss to their Provincial rivals a fortnight ago in the Aviva Stadium was disappointing, they needed to find the same performance again this weekend.
“That game emotionally was a strange one on hindsight,” he said. “We lost the game, so it is not an event and a performance to be celebrated.
“But having said that from an outside point of view we showcased Ulster Rugby.
“I think a lot of people would have been looking at us going we will take them in the quarter-finals, they will come and roll over, we were one of the teams people were maybe turning their noses up at being in the final eight, so I think we showed the outside group just how talented this team is, and more importantly we proved to ourselves that on our day.
“I think Leinster played poorly, but they did as a result of our pressure, we showed away from home that we can sit with the best of them.”
While Edinburgh came from behind to beat Scarlets last weekend, Ulster produced a flat performance in Glasgow to lose 30-7.
Cave said: “The biggest challenge for us now is that fluctuation in performance, but home or away whoever it is, we know after that game (against Leinster) we are capable of going toe-to-toe with the best teams in our league, so we have a lot to play for before the end of this season.”
Following the European Cup tie, Cave announced he would be retiring at the end of the season after 13 years with the Province. To date he has made 226 appearances for the club - currently Ulster’s most capped player still involved.
“It is hard,” he said. “Sometimes events like the Aviva Stadium and the quarter-final recently make you think why would I not want to do this anymore.
“But. I think it was time. Over the next coming years we have a lot of good centres coming through and while I do not think I am past my best or that injury has got the better of me yet, I just decided that I would rather make the decision myself, rather than in a year or two years time, people having the memory of me as a guy who just could not hack it any more.
“So it is an exciting time, but it is a scary time. It will be interesting in pre season when I hear about the guys working hard and running up sand dunes, very much the part of the game I did not enjoy, but I will probably feel quite left out, but I will also be happy on the sofa at the same time.”