Cave ready for his opening
The Ulster centre is hoping to stay clear of injury and profit from an exciting backline to guide his side to some silverware, writes GAVIN CUMMISKEY
AT THIS stage in his career Darren Cave needs a break. The 25-year-old’s form for Ulster last season finally put him in the international reckoning for the Six Nations.
Then he got injured. Again. Story of his career really; the centre that forced Keith Earls onto the wing – story of his career too – when they were playing on the Irish under-20 Grand Slam winning team in 2007 is long overdue an uninterrupted stretch in the Ulster 13 jersey.
Cave’s performances did get on tour to New Zealand last summer but he was completely overlooked after an eight minute cameo in the first Test at Eden Park.
“I pulled on a jersey in those eight minutes and was probably lucky I didn’t see the yellow.
“Ach, it was a good experience. Tough, but a good experience. Nice to get on the field against those boys, they have really shown in the last few weeks that they are playing a different sport to everyone else. Not just Ireland.
“I enjoyed playing against Conrad Smith, he is a player I have always admired.”
It must have been seriously deflating when Paddy Walllace was flown over from his holidays in Portugal for the third Test after injury to Gordon D’Arcy.
Then again, it may have been better to avoid the 60-0 licking in Waikato.
“Selection didn’t go my way but it was still good to be training with Ireland in that environment. Hopefully I will get another chance.”
Cave can secure that very opportunity in the coming fortnight, starting with a hard running display against Castres on Saturday evening.
It will also help when Ruan Pienaar settles back into the team and he can only look good with Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne picking lines outside, and inside, him.
“That’s one of the exciting things at the minute. I think we have one of the best back threes in Europe. Paddy Wallace is playing as well as he has ever played and we have a young outhalf that is getting better ever week.
“I just have to make sure I am the player in the middle of all that.”
Does the arrival of Mark Anscombe, a Kiwi coach, guarantee Cave will get more ball in his mitts?
“The focus is on quick ball and making good decisions before defences can get organised but our scrum and lineout, with John Afoa and Johann Muller, means they are always going to be strong. Ruan Pienaar’s not a bad halfback either so a lot of the time last year we found getting ball off the top of the lineout that box kicking and that sort of play worked well.
“With Tommy coming back and Jared feeling like a new signing we do have more options to go wide.
“There were teething problems in the first few games but against Cardiff the floodgates opened. We got seven. Last week against Connacht they were very close to opening up again. Fair play to Connacht for holding us like they did.”
The initial impression is that Ulster can make a quantum leap in the 2012/13 season. The stated intention is to finally garner some silverware.
“After the Heineken Cup final last year we were beaten not only by the better team on the day but the best team in Europe, in my opinion. That was a way to console us after the game. We knew we were not good enough to win it but we knew there were so many areas we could improve.
“Our signings have been good again and I think we are a better team already and I think we are going to keep improving.
“I’m not saying we are going to win it but there are reasons to be excited about putting a run together.”
On both fronts – Pro 12 and Europe?
“That was one of the first things Mark saw when he came in; you made the Heineken Cup final but why did you not make the top four in the Rabo?
“Our start to the season has shown we are targeting both – to try and finish in the top four and get out of our Pool. And try not to get too carried away with thinking about winning anything.
“That’s where we are at.”