Cave strives for a fresh opening at centre
It’s hard to dispute his belief that being part of Ulster’s subsequent run to the Heineken Cup final improved him as a player, and over the years he has placed a particular emphasis on improving his work-rate off the ball.
“The way I was at (Sullivan High) school, I was just running around the place and not being too fussed on working too hard. If you look at Brian, he’s very good on the ball but he’s also one of the best off the ball as well and that’s the benchmark for where I’m trying to get to.”
Ah yes, O’Driscoll.
“When he was running in that hat-trick in 2000 I was only 13 years old, so I’ve always looked up to him. He’s from the same country and it’s the same position, and it’s good playing against him. He’s still probably the best going and training with him is brilliant, I always keep a wee eye on him because obviously he’s done a lot more right than wrong in his career.”
Ask him if he can replace the irreplaceable, he reasons: “It’s a hard one for me to answer. Sometimes I hear people say, ‘oh, he’s not up to it’ and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I’m up to it because I haven’t been out there before.
“I’ve been answering all sorts of questions for years about replacing Brian so it’s nice that you actually said yourself that he is irreplaceable. I’m not looking to replace him, I’m just looking to try to play rugby as well as I can.”
This season Cave has played eight games for an Ulster team that, including pre-season, has a dozen wins from a dozen matches, whereas Ireland have lost five on the bounce, but he maintains he has not detected a difference psychologically.
“No. I think that game at the weekend was a bitter pill to swallow. The boys were absolutely devastated on Monday morning but at the same time I couldn’t help but think, they (South Africa) are the second best team in the world and we could have beaten them. The boys have taken a bit of criticism about the attack, which I think is very harsh.
“World rankings don’t lie, they’re the second best team in the world and I thought we were better than them at the weekend. So while we’re eighth at the minute I still think that can be a positive.”