Darren Cave admits to feeling that he has a point to prove at Thomond Park tomorrow. Ireland coach Declan Kidney is going to be watching the Battle of Limerick unfold and with places on June’s New Zealand-bound plane up for grabs, Cave knows this would be a very good moment to issue a reminder of his ability.
The Ulster centre made two appearances for a second-choice Irish team during the June 2009 tour of Canada and North America when Ireland’s headline acts were in South Africa with the Lions.
But since then he has not featured, injuries at precisely the wrong moments have conspired against him.
He missed too much of last season’s Ulster campaign to have had any realistic chance of pressing his claim for a place in the autumn’s World Cup squad.
And although Brian O’Driscoll’s post-World Cup shoulder surgery meant his number 13 Irish jersey was up for grabs, a foot injury — sustained in the course of Ulster’s 41-7 mid-January Heineken Cup rout of Leicester Tigers — proved to be Cave’s untimely undoing.
It sidelined him for 10 weeks, ruling him out of contention for a 2012 RBS 6 Nations squad call-up.
But a fortnight ago he returned to the fray for Ulster’s trip to Treviso where he did a 62-minute shift. And last weekend, when he batted the full innings, he was one of the five try-scorers in the 45-7 demolition of Aironi at Ravenhill.
“From an Irish perspective the injury was terrible timing, but from an Ulster perspective it probably wasn’t the worst,” is his take on his most recent absence.
“I was injured for 10 weeks and I missed five games. At a different time of the season I could have missed 10 games.
“But I’m not going to hide away and lie and say that watching the Six Nations wasn’t tough.
“You watch it and you think, ‘I’d love to be playing’. I was doing that.
“But I got over it very quickly because I knew I’d have an opportunity this week, as do a lot of other players in our team to showcase their skills.”
He revealed that he has spoken to the Irish management since the Six Nations campaign in a bid to discover his place in the pecking order which currently appears to be Leinster’s O’Driscoll|(pictured) first choice and Munster’s Keith Earls — Cave’s opposite number on Sunday — second.
“They can say this and that but I think it would have been interesting to see, when push came to shove, where I actually did stand,” added Cave.
“I don’t know where that was, but Keith came in and I thought he played very well,” is Cave’s gracious assessment of his rival’s role in the recent series. “He’s a good player, but I’m looking forward to playing against him. I haven’t played against him much as he’s often being rested under the Player Management Scheme.”
Admitting that there are Ulster players who feel they have been “unlucky” in terms of non-selection for Ireland, he adds: “We feel that the only way to change that is to go and win something.
“No-one’s getting too worried about it (Irish inclusion). We’re trying to win; we’re trying to beat Munster and win this competition.”
Cave also raised an Ulster flag for his midfield partner, Paddy Wallace, whose form — like his own — since returning from injury has been top-notch.
“Since the Six Nations his form for Ulster has been absolutely out of this world,” the number 13 says of his colleague at 12.
“If I was picking an Irish-qualified centre to play outside it would be Paddy Wallace without doubt.”
Interestingly, Cave reckons he and his midfield partner may well have benefited from their injury-enforced time out as a result of which they are fresher than would normally be the case at this stage of the campaign.
“I remember reading a Brian O’Driscoll blog and he was talking about how you can make injuries positive,” Cave says.
“He talked about how the freshness in all the other areas of his body felt brilliant; he wished it wasn’t a five-month lay-off but a two-month sabbatical. And I thought, ‘Well my foot’s going to be two months’ so that’s how I should view it.
“The Christmas fixtures came thick and fast so the body was jaded at that stage. But I didn’t play from the last week in January until the last week in March so I had a couple of months off and now I’m buzzing so hopefully there’s more than four games left this year,” he says, reminding you of the fact that Ulster’s season could run until the end of May.