Belfast Telegraph

Hat-trick hero Darren Cave wants to keep hold of momentum

By Michael Sadlier

There was no sense that this was an achievement worthy of high fives and ear-to-ear smiles. No, instead this was a moment of quiet, satisfied reflection with the hope now being that much more is to come.

It was a notable third try bonus in Europe but, still, with qualification already gone the sense that something of substance had to be brought out for the final pool game was palpable as Ulster closed this campaign with a hugely impressive effort to finish in third, one point behind their well beaten opponents.

No prizes for third spot, but the feeling was that Saturday night's win can, and must, be a building block going forward for Neil Doak's squad. The shame was that Darren Cave's 150th Ulster appearance the week before couldn't have been marked by his first hat-trick of tries, but this effort still managed to go some way towards making up for what had occurred in the south of France seven days earlier.

"We said during the week any team can get up for a massive game, but can you get up for a game when all you're playing for is your shirt and your crowd? I thought we did that massively," Cave said.

"We scored four tries and we probably only had five opportunities so we didn't leave a lot out there," he added.

You could hardly quibble with that as Ulster sent the Tigers packing but, already, the talk was rightly about moving on and producing consistently powerful performances to nail down a PRO12 semi-final.

"I think we've now got a nice bit of momentum so we'll take stock from our break," Cave said as the side has no game now until Treviso visit on February 13.

"I think it lays down a bit of a marker, and I think going forward we're going to be a bit of a force in the PRO12."

His first hat-trick was played down with Cave saying: "I didn't have to do a lot for them but I'm not worrying about that."

The Six Nations squad member also praised Ulster's huge defensive shift which only coughed up one try after last week's eight against the European champions.

"We made it very hard for them (the Tigers) to score," Cave said.

"And at the end we were down to 13 and then 14 men and they were in our 22 but ended up kicking the ball away because they had nowhere to go."

Nowhere to go except back home, with nothing to show for their hopes of some form of European salvation.

For Doak, this result gave some definition for what his injury-hit squad are capable of achieving with the fervent hope being that they can transfer this commitment to the league campaign.

"We knew it would be a difficult week with nothing to play for in terms of qualification, but you saw the commitment and passion the guys put into the jersey and we've got to use that for the rest of the season," is how the Ulster coach saw it.

"This showed what the Ulster team are about through our commitment and the way we played," he added.

"The guys deserve the credit. We were outstanding and we negated everything they threw at us.

"We knew Leicester were going to come here and try to play a little bit. We just built the pressure and getting in before half-time was the key.

"But we've got to try and make sure that that passion and commitment leads into the league.

"Hopefully we'll kick on," he added, looking ahead to next month's hosting of Treviso in the PRO12 - a side they struggled to put away in Italy earlier this month - when both will be without their frontline internationals though Ulster should be in better condition, mentally and physically, to now cope with that situation.

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