Cave in the cold for Ulster as Payne gets another chance in the No13 shirt
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has named 11 Irish international players in his starting line-up for tonight's RaboDirect PRO12 date with Benetton Treviso at Ravenhill (7.05pm).
They include British and Irish Lions pair Tommy Bowe and Rory Best who, in Johann Muller's absence, will lead the side once again.
But the biggest talking point is the inclusion of a player who is not eligible to play for Ireland at this stage, but will be this time next year.
Twelve months from now, New Zealander Jared Payne – who has played for the All Blacks Under- 20s and captained his home nation's Sevens side – will be Irish-qualifed and Ulster's decision to include him once again at 13 suggests they may just be grooming him to fill the massive gap Brian O'Driscoll will leave when he retires at the end of the current season.
If that is what is happening, it is a major setback for Darren Cave who has worn 13 throughout his Ulster career and to date has won five Ireland caps, the first in May 2009 and the most recent in June past.
Although Ulster finally kick-started their season on Saturday night by beating Connacht 18-7 in Galway, Anscombe has made wholesale changes for tonight's joust with Italian visitors, Benetton Treviso.
There are seven changes in personnel plus three positional switches in what is a very clear demonstration of the coach's refusal to let any of his players rest on their laurels or to persist with those who fail to produce to the level he expects.
With his contract up for renewal, it would appear that the affable but no-nonsense Kiwi is not going to allow anyone to undermine his case or position.
As well as Cave's relegation to the bench, out of the backline go David McIlwaine and Ian Porter who lined out at right wing and scrum-half respectively in Galway.
McIlwaine is omitted from the match-day 23, his place having gone to Bowe.
Porter, like McIlwaine, will play no part this time, his place as a starter having been given to Paul Marshall who was number 21 against Connacht. On this occasion that jersey will be worn by Michael Heaney.
Marshall's half-back partner is Paddy Jackson, who continues at 10 with James McKinney once again cast in the role of understudy.
Payne's move to midfield sees Craig Gilroy named at 15, which means Michael Allen is the only member of last week's back three to have been retained in the same position.
The other Marshall – Luke, no relation of Paul – continues at 12, giving rise to the notion that this may be a future first-choice partnership.
It will be very interesting to see Anscombe's midfield selection two weeks from now when Leicester Tigers come to town for the Heineken Cup opener.
Up front the eyebrow-raiser is the omission of Nick Williams, last year's PRO12 Player of the Season.He is relegated to the bench with Roger Wilson – blindside last time out – taking over in the middle of the back row and Robbie Diack promoted to wear six.
Best is propped by Tom Court and Ricky Lutton on the loose and tight-head sides, with Iain Henderson switching to four in Muller's absence and Dan Tuohy partnering him.
Bowe, said: "It's great to be back. It has been a tough old pre-season with my wrist injury, but I'm delighted to be playing, delighted to be back fit again and looking forward to my first game at Ravenhill with the two new stands up."