Magners League: Fired-up Cave ready to step out of the shadows
Many continue to view Ulster centre Darren Cave as a young, still-improving player.
The truth is that he has played 47 games for Ulster and two for Ireland. As he himself sees it this is a big season if he is to become the player many believe he can be.
He is refreshingly honest in saying: “For the last two pre-season friendlies I was the oldest back, which was very different for me because I'm only 23. There were a lot of young kids there.
“I've got 47 caps and I think over the last couple of years I've been there as much as anyone.
“I feel it is time to kick on.”
Having improved in his defence he is determined to remind the rugby public of what he can do in attack, too.
“When Matt Williams was here he put a lot of pressure on me defensively to get the best out of me,” he says.
“But in the last two seasons I haven't done as much with the ball in hand as I would have liked.”
He knows that when it comes to finishing, Ospreys — Ulster’s opponents on Friday night — often set the standard for others to follow. But he knows that creativity is only one of the strings in their bow; another is their admirable work ethic and their refusal to concede anything cheaply.
“The Ospreys are a team that will put you under pressure and force you to make mistakes. They won't give you many opportunities to score,” he points out.
He also acknowledges that if they are to beat them, Ulster cannot afford to be so profligate as was the case last Friday night at Ravenhill.
“We manufactured eight or nine chances against Leeds and we only took three of them,” Cave recalls. “Our key focus this week is that if we get into the 22 and get opportunities we have to take them.”
He expects to encounter opponents who are going to be very pumped up for several reasons.
They are defending champions and having made history last season by becoming the first club to have won three Magners League titles their aim now is to be the first to retain it.
They are accustomed to starting well, too, witness a solitary Magners League round one defeat.
And this time they have the added incentive of having to win in order to wipe out the four-point penalty imposed on them after failing to fulfil their scheduled Ravenhill meeting with Ulster, their explanation being that they had insufficient front row forwards.
“They will be starting the league on minus four points so they are going to be incredibly keen to get a victory and forget about all the shenanigans last year,” said Cave.
Against that, he says Ulster are confident following a 19-16 victory against Leeds Carnegie in the last of their pre-season friendlies.
“The three games were great for us — all against very good teams which is why the results weren't as pleasing as we hoped for,” he says.
“So in the Leeds game it was very important that we got a win.”
He is frank enough to concede that the outcome could have been different, too.
“We were aware that if it had been a Magners League game Leeds would have kicked the penalty at the end and it would have been a draw,” he said.
“But I think it was important for our momentum to get a win.”
So how does he read the Ospreys challenge?
“We are always reasonably confident at home and we have shown in the three (pre-season) games that we can play a bit of rugby,” Cave said. “We know we can cause them (Ospreys) some problems.”
He is delighted with the new-look Ulster squad and the quality of the signings they have made.
“Since I've been involved this is the strongest squad, so credit to David Humphreys and Brian McLaughlin,” he added.