Ulster v Edinburgh: We won't allow dark days to return, vows Darren Cave
After some 201 senior appearances in top level rugby, Darren Cave is confident he can tell the difference between a poor team and one performing poorly. Ulster, he says assuredly, are the latter.
A loss against Edinburgh tonight (7.35pm kick-off) would be the province's fifth in a row in all competitions, a run of defeats unprecedented in recent times - last occurring in 2010.
Cave is one of four players taking the field tonight - the others being Paul Marshall, Robbie Diack and Chris Henry - who were around back then and, as a long-serving stalwart, doesn't see any similarity between the two sides.
"I remember playing in an Ulster team that actually wasn't that good but that isn't the case this year," he said.
"We have just struggled to reach our potential, which is very different. I've sort of said that to the younger guys. I've said, 'I've played in poor Ulster teams - and this isn't one of them'. We can take a lot of confidence from that."
While Henry will captain the side tonight, Cave's own leadership will be important in the absence of both Ulster's usual co-captains, Andrew Trimble and Rob Herring, and Ireland skipper Rory Best.
The centre has been keen to impart some wisdom on younger players who have never had to endure such a poor run.
"There's a few of us," he said. "Particularly when you're missing leaders like Rory Best and Paddy Jackson, who has developed into a real leader.
"There's a few boys who have plenty of experience floating around.
"For the young guys it is a bit different.
"They're used to playing club rugby or with the 'A's so, for instance, with Rory and Rob out, John Andrew might get some game time.
"He's got to look to people to put an arm around him and say, 'look, you're a good player, you're good enough to be here. Just do your thing and it'll all come together'. John is just one example we have in that boat.
"It's about trying to bring a bit of calm as well.
"We didn't perform how we wanted in the Champions Cup and we aren't as high up the league as we wanted. That doesn't mean we're all of a sudden a bad team.
"We're still one of the teams who were favourites to win the league and we fully believe we can get some momentum over the next six games and be there or thereabouts come the end, even if we've got some tough fixtures left to play."
If there are likely to be some nerves among the players making a rare appearance, or indeed Marcell Coetzee who makes a long-awaited debut, tonight will also have an important personal feel for Cave.
Thanks to some untimely injuries, he has struggled for game time this season.
During this run of nine defeats in 13 games, the Holywood man has cracked the starting line-up just four times amid serious competition for the Ulster midfield positions.
"It's frustrating at times," he admitted.
"The situation we have in the centre this year is quite bizarre because there's so many Irish internationals.
"It sort of seems that Stuart Olding was injured for a while, I was injured for a while, we seemed to be swapping and changing.
"For me this year I've done alright when I've played but there's been key times when I haven't been fit and when you let the other guys play, they play well, which is no surprise because they're good players.
"Stuart Olding, well I suppose he plays fly-half sometimes, but Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey are specialist centres as well.
"At the end of the day, I'd love to play every game.
"But at the end of the season, we'll either win together or lose together.
"If you've played 20 games or 15 games or 10 games, it's not going to matter when you either have a medal round your neck or you've watched the final on TV.
"I say the same thing every time I'm here, I just try to work as hard as I can to try and help the team win every week.
"If I do that, and help the team to win, then I think I'm a player Les Kiss will want in his team."
Cave was not in the team when these sides last met, a November reverse in Murrayfield that, while overshadowed by Ireland's victory over the All Blacks the next night, was arguably the worst performance of their season.
But with both teams set to be much changed, it is the side from the Scottish capital's more recent performances that have been under the microscope in Kingspan this week.
"We looked at a small bit of the game in November but we've been looking at their more recent games and they have been playing well," said Cave.
"I don't think Duncan Weir will be available but Jason Tovey has caused us some problems over the years, whoever he's played for.
"They're a good side but when we get things right, we're a very good side as well."
Now, as Cave is sure they will, would be a fine time to start showing it.