Following last season’s injury nightmare, Darren Cave is back to playing the sort of rugby which earned him two Ireland caps in May 2009.
The Ulster centre — a Grand Slam winner with Ireland’s Under 20s in 2007 — did not manage sufficient game time to merit a place in Declan Kidney’s 2011 World Cup plans, although he did produce an outstanding display for the Ireland Select XV who beat Connacht 38-3 at Donnybrook last month.
Had Cave had another few matches under his belt, who knows?
Still, Cave is only 24 and Brian O’Driscoll cannot continue indefinitely. At some point in the not too distant future there is going to be a green 13 jersey up for grabs.
“Brian O’Driscoll isn’t going to play forever and it’s very wide open in terms of who’s going to replace him,” he says.
“It was disappointing that I was so far away from making the Ireland squad,” he admits.
“I didn’t ever believe, after I was injured, that I was actually going to travel (to the World Cup) but it would have been nicer to have been a bit closer.
“But there are opportunities to play for Ulster over the next few weeks and I’m looking forward to hopefully taking those opportunities and enjoying it.”
His contribution to his province’s opening game victory of the RaboDirect Pro 12 series against Glasgow Warriors confirmed his commitment.
It included an opportunistic first half try, thereby kicking off his campaign on a high.
Cave sees it as a continuation from where he was before injury derailed him last term.
“I had a few things that I worked on with Brian (McLaughlin) and Neil (Doak) last year and I feel that they really did help my game.
“It was just so unfortunate that I ended up missing most of the season and my opportunities were limited when I came back due to the form of others,” he reflects.
“But going forward, I’m just very happy with where I am at the minute and hopefully I’ll get as much pitch-time as possible just to try and prove that I can still play a bit of the old rugby.”
His creativity as a midfielder is likely to be tested against Aironi on Saturday (2pm BST).
Having missed so much of 2010/11, he is relishing every opportunity to play — and ward off Ulster’s bright young things.
“It seems strange, at 24 years old, to have all these young guys coming in and everyone talking about how brilliant they are,” says Cave.
Come Saturday, Cave might just be the player everyone’s talking about onc e again.