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Darren Cave's new contract gives huge lift to Ulster Rugby

By Jonathan Bradley

Centre Darren Cave signed a new contract with Ulster and the IRFU yesterday that will keep him at the Kingspan Stadium until the summer of 2018. The 27-year-old made his Ulster debut in the 2006/07 season and has since amassed 144 appearances for his native province.

He made his Ireland debut against Canada in 2009 and has been capped eight times, the most recent of which came against Georgia during last month's autumn internationals.

He has also appeared for the Wolfhounds on 11 occasions and, alongside the likes of Cian Healy, Keith Earls and Felix Jones, was part of the Ireland under-20 Grand Slam winning squad of 2007.

Speaking of the new deal, the former Sullivan Upper pupil said: "I am delighted to be staying with Ulster until at least 2018. I have total faith in the coaching and management set-up we have and I am excited about what this group can achieve in the coming seasons.

"The support that we get, particularly at the Kingspan Stadium, never ceases to amaze me and as someone who was brought up supporting Ulster, it's a pleasure to be involved for the next three and a half years."

Ulster's Team Manager, Bryn Cunningham, added: "Darren has been one of Ulster's most consistent performers over the last number of seasons. Aside from his considerable try scoring record, his defensive organisation is outstanding.

"His performance on Saturday, in which he scored one try and set up another, highlights Darren's importance to the squad. With undoubted interest from other quarters, we are delighted to retain his services."

Jared Payne's move from full-back to 13 had been expected to lessen Cave's involvement this season, and he had been linked with a move to the Top 14, but he has instead exhibited a rich vein of form.

Always an important figure in Ulster's defence, he has contributed three tries in the last three games, winning the official man-of-the-match awards against both Ospreys in the PRO12 and Scarlets in the Champions Cup.

His weekend score against the latter was his 30th in an Ulster shirt and his first in Europe since January 2013.

The deal comes after Cave's team-mates Roger Wilson and Tommy Bowe committed their futures to the province in recent weeks.

While there was good news on the contract front, the injury situation was less clear.

Just as Ruan Pienaar and Dan Tuohy returned, five players were forced from the field with various ailments during the weekend win over Scarlets and Ulster could be left short of numbers for the second fixture against Wayne Pivac's men on Sunday.

Both Franco van der Merwe and Stuart Olding suffered concussion and will follow the graduated return to play protocols.

Nick Williams sustained a hamstring injury, as did tighthead prop Wiehahn Herbst. Both players were said to be undergoing MRI scans last night.

Their absence on Sunday would be a huge blow with Ulster already short of backrowers to cover for Williams, while Declan Fitzpatrick will take Herbst's place.

Inside centre Stuart McCloskey suffered a significant injury to his elbow ligaments and is awaiting specialist advice, but Luke Marshall is fit again.

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