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Cave craves Heineken Cup winner's medal

He's still got the medal but, frankly, Darren Cave would quite like to get rid of it as gongs handed out to the losers don’t really have much of an appeal.

I’d love to be able to throw it out,” he says regarding his rather unwanted souvenir from last May’s Heineken Cup final.

“The medal is still in the house, but hopefully over the next few years I’ll maybe get a chance to throw it out and then hang up all my winner’s ones on the wall,” he laughs.

Cave naturally senses that much is expected of Ulster’s venture into Europe this time but the 25-year-old centre is not about to increase the hype by making bold statements regarding the squad’s plans.

“I think that, of course, there is that extra pressure this year,” he says, again referring to Ulster’s appearance at the Twickenham final against Leinster.

“But you’ve got to try and use it to your advantage,” the three times capped Ireland player adds.

“I think we exceeded our expectations by getting to the final and I think everyone expects us to get back to the final again and maybe win it this year.

“That may or may not be the case but, you know, I’d rather be in the situation where people in Ulster are expecting big things of the team than the way it was a few years ago when people were happy if we won our three homes games.”

Substantial progress has certainly been made from the dark times, but Cave is still at pains to appear cautious at what Castres — who Ulster have never met before in the Heineken Cup — will bring to a packed Ravenhill tomorrow night.

“In the end it’s a home European Cup game and it’s got to be won, but even though you wouldn’t associate Castres as being one of the galacticos of French rugby, at the same time this is a step into the unknown (for us).

“There is something, I wouldn’t say worrying, but cer

tainly a feeling that we’re in the unknown here,” says the player who will win his 86th Ulster cap in tomorrow’s showdown.

As an articulate and upbeat member of the squad, Cave has his own take on the legacy of Ulster’s European final appearance just short of five months ago.

“After the game I tried not to be too down, I thought there was nothing to be down about as Leinster were the best team on the day and the best team in Europe.

“At the end of the day to come second fiddle to them wasn’t the end of the world and I felt straight away after the final that we were going to be a better team this year.

“We had so many good players and then we got the new signings and a new coach coming in and with a full pre-season behind us all that made me feel that we just were going to be better.”

Going into Europe top of the PRO12 League after an unbeaten run of five games has only ratcheted up the expectation, though, as he naturally maintains, Ulster’s current form is no guarantee of a good run.

You could forgive him for not being quite so ebullient after his experience over the summer in New Zealand when three years after winning his first and second Ireland caps in quick succession — on the squad’s tour to America — he was brought on in the dying minutes of the already lost First Test with the All Blacks running riot.

It could have been worse had he been involved in the final outing in Hamilton, but Cave, despite the disappointment of his tour, is still ever hopeful that he can get more game time in a green shirt and that he can challenge for the number 13 jersey once a certain Brian O’Driscoll finally leaves the stage.

For now, though, his sole focus is on Ulster and getting that all-important winning start to help build momentum and keep the squad on track to top the group.

As ever he is definitely upbeat about his team’s Heineken Cup chances.

Cave adds: “For me, I’m not saying we’re going to win it this year, but what I am saying is that’s how I feel.”

That loser’s medal may yet find its way to his bin.

Belfast Telegraph