Beware wounded Montpellier: Darren Cave
Published 10/01/2014 | 09:30
And, being the owner of a figurative 'been there' T-shirt, he is in no doubt that Ulster's opponents in the penultimate round of Heineken Cup Pool 5 action will be keen to show what they can do when they run out at Ravenhill for tomorrow night's 8pm start.
"I think they have wobbled a little in the league recently, so if I was in the Montpellier camp I think I'd see this as a massive opportunity to get the season back on track," Cave said.
"I played for Ulster in 2008-09 and we were already out going into round five. But when Harlequins came to town we went hell for leather to beat them.
"We did, and it didn't matter that because we'd lost other matches we were out; we'd got a scalp and that gave us momentum for the rest of the season. I think Montpellier will see it that way, too."
And Cave – who had an excellent match last weekend against Munster – is able to identify with the guests in another way, too. With Ravenhill now regarded as a truly daunting port of call for any side coming on Heineken Cup business, he reckons he knows exactly how those Montpellier players will be feeling.
"I know what it's like to be going away to face a team that you know, in your heart of hearts, is better than than you. I know what it's like to be going to a fortress," he said.
"I remember how I used to approach it in my first season with Ulster when we were going to the likes of the Liberty Stadium to play the high-flying Ospreys. I remember thinking, 'We can start well, get amongst them and disrupt them'. But if the opposition started well you began to worry and the seeds of doubt began to grow.
"We know now that while teams coming to Ravenhill think that they can win the game if they can disupt us, they also know, in their heart of hearts, they if we start well and get our stuff right, they're going to be in trouble."
Now 26, Cave's recent form has been as good as any he has ever shown, with last Friday night's display – topped by a try – against Munster being just the most recent example.
But that was no flash in the pan with the recent, much-publicised airing of his upset over his non-selection for Ireland having seemingly served to inspire him to try even harder to prove his critics wrong.
Cave, in the mood, is an impressive sight and ever since baring his soul he has certainly been in the mood. Seemingly feeling the need to justify himself in the wake of having made his opinions known to the wider world, he has played with renewed verve and determination.
As he underlined against Munster, he can finish. And as he reinforced against Benetton Treviso on their ill-fated Heineken Cup trip to Ravenhill on December 7, when he played a delightful part in three of Ulster's seven tries, he can create openings for others, too. Just ask Luke Marshall, Dan Tuohy and Andrew Trimble who were beneficiaries that night.
"I've been happy with how I've been playing over the past couple of months," Cave said. "Friday was a good night for pretty much all of our backs; I thought we got the ball wide well and once we got the tempo up in attack we caused Munster a few problems."
His use of the word 'tempo' temporarily takes him off on another route.
"I believe that this Ulster team is at its best when the pace is high in the game. We're a very fit team and I think that even our forwards are at their best when there's tempo.
"That's something we'll try to use against Montpellier. They've a big, heavy sort of forward pack, so we'll be looking to shift them around and keep them on the move. That won't necessarily mean us throwing the ball about Barbarians-style, but it will involve a bit of tempo to see who gets tired first."
Invited to elaborate on the subject, he responded: "I think rugby is all about trying to control the tempo. Obviously the recent match against Leinster is the one that springs to mind; they controlled the tempo and I felt that every time we got the ball we didn't have that buzz we normally look for because we were under so much pressure in defence.
"Neil Doak told us at half-time that we (the backs) had to get our hands on the ball and look like we wanted it. But we were drained from making tackle after tackle after tackle. Leinster did to us what we like to do to teams – bring them through the phases, tire them out and look for mis-matches."
Tonight Cave is hoping to meet up with former Ulster colleague, and still-close friend, Timoci 'Jimmy' Nagusa (pictured), who left for Montpellier in the summer of 2010.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him. He's a good friend of mine and he was always a crowd favourite here," Cave said.
"But he's not going to want to come here and just tick a box by showing up and then giving a poor account of himself. He's going to be as motivated as anybody on that field.
"The fans love him, all the players here still love him.
"I don't think he had his best game when we played them over there, so he'll want to have a big one against us here in Belfast.
"Mind you, when he arrives at Ravenhill he'll probably look around and wonder what has happened to the place! Hopefully it will be another of the nights with an electric atmosphere that he remembers from when he was here as an Ulster player."