Cave looking to extend his season on the double
Ulster centre will be hoping to return to North America with Ireland four years after making his debut there
Ulster’s Darren Cave hoping to answer Ireland’s call this summer. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Darren Cave acknowledges the symmetry. In 2009, the British & Irish Lions toured South Africa, while Ireland fulfilled a two Test itinerary to Canada and the USA. The 26-year-old Ulster centre made his debut in the first match and won a second Ireland cap the following week in Santa Clara.
Next month Warren Gatland’s Lions head for Australia after a short pit-stop in Hong Kong to play the Barbarians. Ireland once again head for North America, with matches against the Canucks in Toronto and the US Eagles in Houston. In the intervening four years Cave has added just a single cap, when coming on as a replacement for Keith Earls in a Test against New Zealand last summer.
Brian O’Driscoll will be on duty with the Lions and young Luke Marshall, who made his Ireland debut in the Six Nations, will have the early summer off following a series of concussions. New Ireland coach Joe Schmidt and the man leading the tour Les Kiss, must decide who travels; Cave will be a strong contender.
“It’s a strange feeling looking back to that tour. If you told me at the time that I wouldn’t make a match day squad for a Six Nations game or an autumn international and would win just one more cap as a replacement, I would have struggled to believe it, struggled to accept it.
“I don’t think I took things for granted but what I can say is that if the opportunity presents itself this summer I want to make it as tough a decision as possible for the coaches to make me hand back the jersey. It’s been a long four years.”
He chuckles when it is suggested that he didn’t join in with the Leinster supporters, albeit in the privacy of his home, in chanting, “one more year”, following O’Driscoll’s try against Biarritz. “I was saying, ‘no, no don’t be encouraging him.’”
In maintaining a lighter theme, while Ireland were beating Wales at the Millennium stadium a few months ago, Cave, in his guise as honorary president of the Northern Ireland Blackburn Rovers supporters association, was watching the club beat Bristol City 2-0 at Ewood Park. “Dan Tuohy (Ulster and Ireland secondrow) is a City fan so he copped plenty of flak. ”
On Friday night Ulster host the Scarlets at Ravenhill in a RaboDirect Pro12 semi-final determined to deliver on the form they demonstrated for much of the league proper in finishing top of the standings and embarking on that 14-match unbeaten run at one point.
The disappointing nature of their exit from the Heineken Cup in the quarter-finals against Saracens merely underlines a determination to grab some silverware. The Scarlets suffered a 41-17 thumping at home to Benetton Treviso last weekend, a performance that prompted their coach Simon Easterby to issue an apology to the supporters.
Cave confirmed that this week’s video analysis hasn’t been taken from that match. “There’s no point. It was a one-off. You don’t finish fourth in the league ahead of teams like Munster and the Ospreys unless you are a good side; it’s not a fluke to get that position over 22 matches. Most of the clips we have watched came from their win over Glasgow.
“I enjoy playing against Jonathan Davies. He is a special player, one of the best 13s around. He big, strong quick with a good left foot; not many players have his all round quality. You can’t afford to give him and Scott Williams, time and space. The same applies to George North. They have more Lions in their team than we have. We have to control our line speed and have everyone working together.
“We have the quality to cause them problems, sometime I’m sure they’d be quick to acknowledge. If we get our patterns right then we’ll be in a position to manage our expectations.”
The next two and a half weeks will define Ulster’s season, especially if they can rustle up a couple of victories.