Dan Tuohy to quit Ulster for a fresh start back home at Bristol
Guinness Pro12 League: Cardiff Blues v Ulster, Cardiff Arms Park, Saturday, 5.15pm
Dan Tuohy may have played his final game for Ulster with confirmation that he will join home-town side Bristol expected to arrive today.
The lock was with the Aviva Premiership side yesterday for talks and a medical, and if they progressed as expected, then he could be lining out at Ashton Gate in December.
Tuohy arrived at Ulster in 2009 from the Exeter Chiefs, and has since amassed 136 appearances, as well as earning 11 caps for Ireland.
The 31-year-old was contracted to stay at Kingspan until the summer of 2018 but it now appears that deal will be cut short by some 18 months.
One of the squad's most vocal and forthright characters, Tuohy is one of four forwards in the Ulster set-up who have won more than 10 Ireland caps - the others being centurion Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Chris Henry - with his contract reflecting that standing.
Injuries have stalled his progress in recent years, and he just returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines, making two appearances this season while also turning out for the Barbarians earlier this month in an effort to regain match sharpness.
His return to action finally brought an end to a frustrating year that, aside from injury, began with a World Cup snub when it was Leinster's Mike McCarthy called into Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad as a replacement after injury to Paul O'Connell in the final pool game.
Coach Allen Clarke said yesterday: "He's had a frustrating last couple of years with injury but I remember what he was as a young man when he arrived here and what he developed into, that experience is precious.
"If he is to move on it opens up an avenue for somebody else. We have some good locks here in Ulster that maybe haven't been getting a shot at it and it's up to them now to put their hands up and say pick me.
"There's no particularly ideal time to lose someone of Dan's quality. These opportunities come along. He's at the back-end of his career now.
"We're supporting Dan as best as we possibly can without leaving ourselves short."
In terms of Ulster's engine room options moving forward, South African Franco van der Merwe is out of contract in the summer while Henderson has been deployed in the second-row more often than not for Ireland since the World Cup.
Pete Browne recently penned a new deal until the summer of 2019 while promising Alan O'Connor and youngster Kieran Treadwell also remain in place.
Big-spending Bristol, meanwhile, have struggled in their first season back in the Aviva Premiership and they are currently rooted to the foot of the table without a win in their nine games so far this season.
Chairman Chris Booy has already spoken about his determination to boost his squad for their relegation battle and they have also been heavily linked with Siale Piutau, brother of Ulster star Charles.
Booy has targeted international-quality stars and, if he can recapture his form, Tuohy would certainly fit the bill.
He made his Ireland debut in 2010, scoring a try against the All Blacks.
He played against Australia on the same tour but did not feature for another two years.
While forming a strong partnership at provincial level with Johann Muller, Tuohy was back in for the 2012 clashes with New Zealand, starting all three Tests.
He was selected by Les Kiss for the two games in North America while others were on the 2013 Lions tour but his best performance in a green jersey came in the 2014 Six Nations.
Standing in for O'Connell when the captain went down with a chest infection against Scotland, Tuohy was excellent before breaking his arm against Wales a week later.
While he failed to make the World Cup squad, he featured twice in the warm-ups for what now look like his last international caps.