Darren Cave to captain Ulster for Leinster clash as McFarland hails one club man
With little on the line for either side, changes aplenty are expected when Ulster host Leinster in the PRO14 at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday.
Rugby round up Newsletter
While that is likely to mean a number of players with only a handful of caps between them, the home side's captain will be a man on the other end of the experience spectrum.
Having announced his decision to retire at the end of this season, Darren Cave will be pulling on the Ulster jersey for the 227th time this weekend as he enters the final few weeks of his career.
A remarkable tally, one that is just two short of Andrew Trimble's all-time record, the 32-year-old could yet retire having set a new benchmark depending on Ulster's progression in the PRO14 play-offs.
No matter what happens between now and the end of May though, head coach Dan McFarland is hopeful that selecting the Holywood man as skipper will provide him with a memorable moment.
"Darren will probably captain the side," he said.
"Darren is retiring at the end of the year. Everybody will respect that and it's a huge day for him. On top of that, it's an inter-pro derby at Kingspan, what a great occasion."
Cave has captained the side on two previous occasions over his 12-year career but McFarland stressed that this was no token gesture.
"He's confident, but he's not that confident," said the coach when it was light-heartedly suggested that Cave had come up with the idea.
"There's a performance element to it. We've got plenty of people who can captain that team but Darren is a good leader of men. He'll do a good job as the captain.
"I think that will add to the performance but there's also the aspect that he's playing at Kingspan when he's retiring at the end of the year. It's a great honour to do that."
McFarland may have only been in the Ulster hotseat for one season but Cave is a player he has known since the centre first burst onto the scene over a decade ago.
"I've known Darren since 2007, back when I was coaching the (Ireland) Under-20s forwards that won the Grand Slam," he said.
"Darren played at outside centre for that team. There were a lot of players in that team who went on to have great careers and Darren is one of them. I've got a lot of time for him.
"It means a lot to him to represent this province, to have played for one club throughout his career, he's so proud to have done that."
While Cave's contribution on the field has been apparent, McFarland adds that he'll be missed for far more than his ability.
"He's a smart fella, he doesn't mind speaking his mind," he said.
"He's confident and he's got opinions. He's going to be successful but in terms of what he's done with the squad this year, a lot of the charity work that's done in the background, Darren has a leading hand in that.
"He'll organise something, put a message in the WhatsApp group, and you might get 25 or 30 players turning up. They don't have to, but they do it because he's organised it."
Meanwhile, Ulster back-row Caleb Montgomery will join Worcester Warriors in the Aviva Premiership next season.
The 23-year-old made his sole senior appearance from the bench against Leinster in the RDS back in January but has in the main been a regular at 'A' level.
Upon sealing the switch, he commented that he was looking forward to having the chance to prove himself.
"I am hugely excited to be joining Worcester Warriors for the 2019-20 season," Montgomery said.
"It is a great club with passionate fans, excellent facilities and a strong talented squad that really play for each other.
"I am really looking forward to getting over there and meeting my new team-mates and coaches. Alan Solomons is someone I have great respect for after all he has achieved in the game and can see the honest and fair environment he has created at Worcester. One in which I hope to prove myself."
Montgomery is treading a well worn path.
As well as former Ulster coaches Solomons and Neil Doak, Sixways has been called home by Niall Annett, Callum Black and Michael Heaney in recent years while Belfast native Conor Carey will join from Connacht next season.
Tighthead prop Gareth Milasinovich will be going the other way this summer.