Ulster’s record appearance holder, Andrew Trimble, is calling time on his professional career.

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The 33-year-old, who has earned 229 provincial caps for Ulster and 70 Ireland caps over a 13-year career, made the announcement in an open letter to supporters.

Trimble posted on Twitter that he had come to “the most difficult decision in any professional sportsman’s life” in recent weeks.

He wrote: “I know that I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have realised not one of my dreams, but two of them; to play for Ulster and to play for Ireland.

“These have been some of the most fulfilling days of my life and I feel nothing but gratitude for them.

“But there’s no way of stopping time – and I see that each day in the lives of my two young children, who are now close to beating me over five metres.

“So I wanted to let you know that this will be my last season playing professional rugby.

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“I want to thank the club for allowing me the time and space to think things through before making what is probably the toughest decision that any professional sportsman will make.

“Most of all, I want to thank you – the loyal and dedicated supporters of this special club. I know that nothing will come close to the experience of taking the field and hearing you raise your voices in support of the team.

“You stood up for me; I only hope that I stood up for you.”

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In tribute to Trimble, Bryn Cunningham, Ulster’s Operations Director, said:

“Andrew has been a class act both on and off the pitch. He has been a great ambassador for Ulster Rugby, having done much to promote our work in the community and to inspire future generations of rugby players from across the nine counties.

“I was still playing here when Andrew first joined the squad and it’s been fantastic to follow his journey to becoming the highest-capped Ulster player of all time – a remarkable achievement! He has delivered some incredible performances in both the Ulster and Ireland jerseys over the years and he can be justifiably proud of his playing career.

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“I know that Andrew will be successful in whatever career he chooses next, and I wish him, Anna, Jack and Molly well in this new chapter for them.”

Shane Logan, Ulster’s Chief Executive, added:

“I’d like to thank Andrew for his wonderful service to rugby in Ulster over the past 13 years. He has been an inspiration for so many young players across the Province, due to his uncompromising playing style but also his kind nature and infectious personality.

“I know that he will continue to support Ulster in the years ahead and I wish him well in the years ahead.”

Meanwhile Ulster’s hopes of playing in Europe next season also remain firmly alive.

Having finished fourth in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14, Ulster now look likely to take on Ospreys in a play-off match for Champions Cup qualification, although it’s still possible that they could qualify automatically.

The most likely scenario at this stage is that Ulster would have to play Ospreys in a play-off match for the 7th PRO14 place in the competition. This would be played at Kingspan Stadium on the weekend of 18-20th May.

However, there is a possibility that Ulster could qualify for the Champions Cup without having to play the play-off match, based on the criteria outlined above.

For this to happen, Ulster would need PRO14 Rugby to earn an eighth spot in the Champions Cup. This is possible if Leinster win the Champions Cup and all of the Challenge Cup semi-finalists qualify for the Champions Cup on merit by finishing in the top six of their respective leagues.

Cardiff and Newcastle have already qualified, while Gloucester currently occupy sixth place in the Aviva Premiership and Pau sit in seventh in the TOP 14. Gloucester travel to Saracens next week and Pau host Toulon.

Were PRO14 Rugby to have an eighth place, Benetton Rugby would play Ospreys in a play-off match.

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