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Cave focused on aiding Ulster defence as 200th cap finally beckons


By Jonathan Bradley

In an ideal world, Darren Cave admits he would have joined Ulster's '200 Club' quite some time ago but, ahead of notching the milestone against Connacht this weekend, the centre says the trip to Galway is all about maintaining the province's momentum heading into 2018.

Les Kiss will take a changed side to the Sportsground on Saturday night (7.35pm kick-off), looking to build on their sweep of a European double-header with Harlequins.

With injuries biting, and an Ireland camp taking away fit internationals in the early part of this week, three consecutive inter-pros will have to be carefully managed with Cave finally set to transition from 199 to 200.

The 11-times-capped international has been selected just three times since October, despite injuries to Jared Payne, Luke Marshall and Tommy Bowe.

"It's cool to get 200, it's been a long time coming," admitted the 30-year-old.

"I'm not getting too carried away with it. I haven't played as much rugby as I would have wanted to this year, and I want to try and do my bit to help the team win.

"We've a lot of backs but it has been quite frustrating. This is only my seventh game of the season.

"It's always hard playing one week and then not the next. I haven't played since the Kings game (in November), that's seven weeks. Ideally, you'd like to play a few in a row but we have so many players that you don't get those opportunities.

"You can't use that as an excuse. You have to do what you can, contribute, and hope that you help the team to go well. If you're doing that then you'll play.

"It's been frustrating at times, it's not about me though. The last few weeks have been two great results and there's been a buzz around that. That's why it's important that we keep that momentum going over Christmas."

With Cave's noted organisational skills, there has been quite the clamour on social media to see the man who made his debut for the side all the way back in 2007, but the Holywood native believes his team-mates' defence has been improving over the past two weeks.

"I would like to have played more this season, there's no hiding that, but that's no different to a lot of players. I think I can add loads of value to the team, I think the coaches know that," he said.

"Over the years, (defence) is something I've done quite well. I think our defence has been a little better. The first week (against Harlequins), the weather was atrocious and it's hard to attack.

"The next you can say, 'well is the defence that good, you conceded four tries?' But when you score 52, that's not uncommon. I felt we were very in control of the game."

While the immediate future - joining a group of just five players who have achieved a double-century in Ulster colours - is to be celebrated, things further down the line seem more uncertain.

Out of contract at the end of the year, he said there has yet to be anything put in place for next season.

"Age 30, I'm physically better than I've ever been, and obviously more experienced than I've ever been. I still think I can add a lot of value," he said.

"I'm out of contract at the end of the season and am currently unsure where I'll be playing my rugby next season. For now I'm just trying to contribute as much as I can when given the opportunity so that's my focus for this weekend and going forward."

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