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Maybe I'm deluded but I don't think Ulster are a poor team, admits Cave

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Theories abound as to the primary cause of Ulster's struggles in their worst domestic season since 2010 and experienced centre Darren Cave has admitted that those on the inside are similarly none the wiser.

After losing to Cardiff over the weekend, Ulster are locked in a battle with Benetton for a spot in the PRO14's Champions Cup play-off game, with a season in Europe's second tier next year an ever increasing likelihood.

Having made his debut in 2007 and amassed more than 200 appearances since, Cave has played in all manners of sides at Kingspan Stadium but can't fathom why this one has faltered.

"It's so hard to put your finger on," admitted the Holywood man who has not played nearly as much rugby as he would have hoped this year.

"I've played on a lot of different Ulster teams, teams that didn't get over the line but got to finals, and long before that I played in Ulster teams that were very average.

"I genuinely don't believe that this is a poor team, but for whatever reason results haven't been good enough, they haven't been to the standard that we expect of ourselves and that the fans expect of us."

While there is still a mathematical chance of catching Edinburgh and making the play-offs, the looming presence of Benetton just one point back has left the team sweating on their place in Europe's top tier next season.

For the midfielder, capped 11 times by Ireland, it's something of a throwback to his early days in the jersey.

"I look back at times in my career when the sole goal was to finish above Connacht to make sure you get into Europe," he said. "You were always going to struggle to make the play-offs, they were average Ulster teams.

"But I just don't believe that this is an average Ulster team. Maybe I'm deluded but that's what I believe from the bottom of my heart.

"I can't put my finger on what's gone wrong this year, or what the fix is, big or small."

Having lost Director of Rugby Les Kiss over the course of this tumultuous season, head coach Jono Gibbes will follow at the end of the campaign, but Cave has stressed that the players must put all such distractions aside over the course of the final four games.

"It can be tough at times when you're looking to build a culture and stability is what you want," he admitted. "To lose two coaches with so much experience within the space of a month was a bit of a shock, certainly to me and I think most of the players.

"There's a lot of questions from everyone but the players, we don't know what way we're going and what's happening.

"When this season finishes, we can start worrying about who the new coaches are but it's important that the rest of the season isn't a write off for us.

"Let's not hide away from it, we all want to be playing in the Champions Cup and Treviso are a good side.

"There's so much going on at Ulster at the minute but it all boils down to one thing, we have to start getting points and we have to start winning games. That's where the energy has to go, not worry about who's coming in and what we're doing next year. We have to make sure when the new management come in, that we're in the Champions Cup."

For Cave, what's happening next year goes beyond who will be sitting in the coaching box. He is out of contract at the end of the campaign and has no new deal in place. Not one to trumpet his own cause, he believes that focusing on such matters won't help him perform.

"There's a few things that are going to help you play well in the next game and there's an awful lot of things going on in your life that are no help to you trying to train well," he added.

"You're lying if you say you don't think about it during the week but I know what I need to do to help the team win and it's not worrying about that sort of thing."

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