Darren Cave knows that his international ambitions hinge on two things — the fortunes of the team for which he plays and his own contribution to that collective performance.
Currently the centre, who has just turned 23, has two Irish caps, namely the pair he earned last May during a Lions-depleted Ireland side’s outings against Canada and the USA.
His pride was badly bruised when one journalist, entrusted with scoring players’ contributions out of 10, marked him one of the lowest of those who turned out against Cardiff Blues in Ulster’s last outing.
Now, with only four Magners League matches remaining, he knows he and Ulster must dig deep and produce some very good end of season form.
A hat-trick of defeats has left Brian McLaughlin’s side in eighth place, just four points ahead of bottom of the pile Connacht whom they play in their final match of the series. He acknowledges the need for improvement in his game and Ulster’s overall performance if his hopes of more are to come to anything.
“As a team at this stage of the season it’s about trying to win as many as possible and finishing as high up the league as we can,” he said. “As individuals there are players — myself included — who want to be included in the summer tour with Ireland.
“We know that comes from playing in a successful team so all of us hoping to go on the summer tour know that Ulster have to be playing well and winning. That’s why there’s no problem with motivation, despite results in the past four games.”
The affable Cave remains impressively upbeat.
“I think the way fixtures have worked has been quite good for us. Having had a couple of days off gave us a chance to get things together after what was a massively disappointing result against Cardiff,” he said. “Since we’ve come back together again, everybody has trained hard and now we’re really looking forward to getting back on the pitch.”
Whilst admitting that sometimes it can be tough coming to terms with defeat, Cave managed to find a silver lining to the dark cloud that descended on the team alike in the wake of Ulster’s most recent home reverse.
“We hate losing, particularly at Ravenhill. But we felt we didn’t play that badly. We conceded soft points and really put ourselves under pressure. Consequently we were always chasing the game,” he said. “But you get over it and everybody starts working towards putting things right in the next game. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to bounce back in the last three games, but hopefully this time we can do that.”
Asked where he feels things have gone wrong since the highs of January, Cave replied: “It’s very hard to put your finger on it. We play some very good rugby and on paper it looks a good team.
“Even if you look at last week’s line-up which had Simon Danielli at full-back and Trimble and Nagusa on the wings, that’s a team that can go and score tries and get bonus points. I think a lot of the time we’ve gone behind and we’ve struggled when that has happened. If we get in front — like we did away to Ospreys and over in Bath — we can be very dangerous.
“Points on the board first maybe shouldn’t affect you as much as it seems to affect us sometimes. Maybe we’re a wee bit inexperienced and a wee bit naive.
“If you concede an early try it shouldn’t be the end of the world because you know you’re going to have to score more than seven points to win a match anyway.”
Encouragingly, the all-for-one team ethic appears to be surviving this run of results. Cave explained: “People make individual errors, but at the end of the day there’s no finger pointing. We’re all in the same team and we all want the same things.
“So when we lose, everybody sits down and has a look at what they did wrong. Then it’s about trying to put individual errors right and hopefully that will mean a better team performance.”
He hopes that the timing of the twice-postponed match tomorrow night — three days after Ospreys’ heartbreaking Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat by Biarritz in San Sebastian — will be to Ulster’s advantage.
“But even so, they have so many great players that they will still be able to field a very good side. Whatever they turn up with will be quality and all of our preparations have been about facing a first-class side.