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Darren Cave: My face doesn't fit with Ireland

By Michael Sadlier

Darren Cave is fed up with being snubbed by Ireland – and concerned that, when it comes to international rugby, his face doesn't fit.

The 26-year-old is closing in on his 120th appearance for Ulster but donning the green shirt is a different matter; Cave has won just five caps for Ireland since making his debut on a tour of North America four years ago.

"Unfortunately for me, internationally, the last few years haven't gone that well and sometimes you wonder does the face not fit," said Cave.

He added: "I've read that I'm not established for Ulster or inexperienced at international level, or for some reason not good enough to be an international rugby player.

"I don't know how these people see that, as I've never really had a good crack at doing it.

"I still wonder sometimes: does the face not fit? If you don't know what I mean, ask Roger Wilson how he has one Irish cap and Jamie Heaslip has 60 and two Lions tours."

Despite the all-round excellence of his performance against Edinburgh and then last weekend's well-taken try at Zebre, the last while hasn't exactly been easy for the 26-year-old who is closing in on his 120th appearance for Ulster.

What with the emergence of Jared Payne as a rival for the number 13 shirt and his own recent experiences regarding involvement with the Ireland squad – or rather continuing lack of it when it comes to largely making appearances anywhere but far-flung tours during Lions years – Cave clearly feels that it is time he aired some of his own reflections on the matter.

"The competition (with Payne) is healthy and yeah ... ," he pauses before calmly continuing though it's clear that there is genuine hurt behind the smile.

"Unfortunately for me internationally the last few years haven't gone that well and sometimes you wonder does the face not fit.

"Any time I'm unfortunate to read a paper that I'm mentioned in, quite often it says how I'm not established for Ulster or not first choice for Ulster, and inexperienced at international level, or for some reason not good enough to be an international rugby player," Cave says before getting rather more up close and personal with the subject matter.

"I don't know how these people see that as I've never really had a good crack at doing it," he says regarding the fact that he has only won five Ireland caps since making his debut on a North American tour in 2009.

"I suppose it's all motivation (for me) but at the end of the day I still wonder sometimes does the face not fit.

"If you don't know what I mean by that I suppose you should ask Roger Wilson how he has one cap for Ireland and Jamie Heaslip has 60 and two Lions tours behind him," Cave throws into his explanation.

He won two more caps in the Lions-diluted Ireland side which played the United States and Canada on last June's tour and then was left out of new coach Joe Schmidt's initial squad for the autumn internationals before becoming one of several additional players called up to essentially provide cover at their Carton House training base.

Location-wise it was where he wanted to be but in just about every other way it left yet another somewhat unpleasant after-taste as Cave watched Connacht's young tyro Robbie Henshaw nip in ahead of him in the pecking order of other outside centre options being looked at behind the soon to depart Brian O'Driscoll.

"It was frustrating for me at times," Cave says and you can empathise with his position.

"I'm actually a big fan of Joe (Schmidt, pictured) even though I don't know if he's a big fan of me.

"He's an incredibly likeable person and he really knows his rugby which means that my non-selection is a bit harder.

"But he's given me a couple of things to work on and I think I've shown that it's not just the last two games it's (my form) in the Heineken rounds one and two and I've shown I can cause problems for defences as part of this Ulster team."

Rejection is never an easy thing to deal with but the only thing to do is try to be thick-skinned and just keep playing the game.

Even so, sometimes you just need to let off steam.

Cave is not only intent on producing quality efforts regularly for his province – with Payne's Irish qualification next summer doubtless uppermost in his thoughts – but is also still waiting and hoping for his chance internationally against sides rated above Ireland in the world rankings.

As time goes on, though, he has clearly begun to wonder.

A cameo off the bench in the first defeat in 2012's three-Test New Zealand tour hardly counts for much while then when he showed up well for an Ireland XV against Fiji, in November of last year, that didn't even bring the consolation of another cap while it did propel Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy and Paddy Jackson further forward into participation in the Six Nations.

Last month, he ran lines against the main squad at Carton House and did what he could to stay interested while observing Henshaw being given special attention.

"One of the things Joe said to me was that Brian was going to be his (Henshaw's) guide for November and I was left out initially because he thought Robbie could learn a lot more off him during the November series.

"That's probably fair enough but at the end of the day I've played over 100 games for Ulster and I don't need my hand held through it," Cave explains.

"Though I didn't get that close to be involved in November I would argue that I don't think any of the Irish qualified centres played better than me in the Heineken rounds one and two," he adds.

"If that's the way Joe wants to take things it's disappointing for me but it doesn't mean I'm not going to get picked for Ulster and try and win games for Ulster and ... I'll try and make it hard for him (Schmidt) anyway," is Cave's closing comment on what is a rather raw issue.

And then we manage to get back to Saturday's first back-to-back clash with Treviso and the fundamental need to stay unbeaten and out in front in Pool Five.

"I think there's no reason why we can't win all our pool games and I don't see why it can't happen," Cave says.

"But we'll just try to get this win and see where that leads us the week after," he concludes.

There, job done. Sometimes it just feels so much better to give all that frustration a darn good airing.

Incidentally, as Cave and his Ulster team-mates prepared for Saturday's Heineken Cup showdown against Treviso, they learned that John Afoa would be leaving these shores – for Gloucester. Afoa had been expected to move south of the equator, not merely across the Irish Sea.

Belfast Telegraph

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