Cave has no complaints with his Six Nations omission
Ulster captain parks Irish disappointment as province plots Ravenhill route to Pro12 decider in Cardiff test
ULSTER welcome back two of their long-term injured stars with captain Darren Cave bullishly declaring that it is up to other teams to "shoot them down" as the province seek to consolidate a "home" path to Pro12 glory.
The return of playmakers Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson after their elbow injuries sustained against Toulon in January is a significant fillip, as is the presence of Six Nations title winner Iain Henderson, the only international released by the IRFU.
After defeat to Dragons last time out, Ulster know they cannot afford any more slip-ups as they seek to tie down a potential semi-final at their Kingspan Stadium home in Ravenill in their search for a first trophy success in a decade.
Centre Cave was not a central part of that Six Nations success but he does view the presence of his provincial team-mate, Jared Payne (29) as a positive factor ahead of the World Cup warm-ups in August when he willll seek to impress Joe Schmidt enough to make the 31-man squad.
"I thought Ireland as a whole played very well right through the Six Nations," says Cave (right). "The midfield got their opportunity and took it and both played extremely well, and that was demonstrated when Robbie Henshaw was nominated as one of the players of the tournament.
"I certainly have no complaints at all. To be honest, it gives you added incentive to really up my game.
"It also gives me confidence if another opportunity did come that I will be up for it and do a good job as well. You don't have to be young to get your chance as you only have to look at Jared Payne at 29.
"I've watched Robbie come through the ranks and he has done amazingly well. I will just continue playing as well as I can and we'll see what happens."
With Ulster sitting second, four points behind Glasgow despite losing last time out against Dragons, Cave deems it imperative that they defeat the Blues this evening.
"Cardiff will be dangerous," he says. "They've had a few changes lately particularly in the coaching staff and since then their results have been pretty good.
"They will be coming to Belfast looking for three wins in a row, and with internationals missing from both sides, you just never know what's going to happen.
"We are not exactly enthralled with our performances of late. The defeat against the Dragons last time out was bad timing in many ways. It was certainly playing on mind as it was my first game captaining the side.
"Sitting in second spot we are there to be shot down by the teams below us. We have five games left before the play-offs and three are at home.
"In the end if you don't beat the bigger teams like Leinster and Munster which are ahead of us, you don't really deserve to be in the play-offs. That's the way I see it. Hopefully we can keep our unbeaten home record in the Pro12."
They should do despite the returns of Matthew Rees and Harlequins-bound Adam Jones to the line-up.
ulster - L Ludik; C Gilroy, D Cave (capt), S Olding, M Allen; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring, W Herbst, D Tuohy, F van der Merwe, I Henderson, C Ross, N Williams.
Reps: J Andrew, A Warwick, B Ross, R Diack, P Marshall, I Humphreys, R Scholes.
Cardiff Blues - R Patchell; A Cuthbert, C Allen, G Evans, L Amorosino; G Anscombe, L Williams; S Hobbs, M Rees (capt), A Jones, J Hoeata, L Reed, J Turnbull, E Jenkins, J Navidi.
Reps: K Dacey, T Filise, S Andrews, M Cook, M Vosawai, T Knoyle, G Davies, T Isaacs
Ref - Marius Mitrea (FIR)
Ulster v Cardiff,
Live, BBC 2 NI, 7.35