independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Cave determined to finally start making his case for Ireland's life after O'Driscoll

Darren Cave sashays into the room with a glowing smile on his face.

"This is some place, isn't it boys?"

Clearly enamoured with his surroundings, Cave seems like a guy who'd rather not leave Carton House's opulence.

And yet, the 25-year-old will be arguably the first one on the bus departing for Limerick for this weekend's Thomond Park clash against Fiji.

While many bemoan the failure to award caps for this game, a sorry slight that for differing reasons demeans both the Irish and Fijian unions, for the Ulsterman it represents a chance to get back on the international road towards lasting recognition.

Injuries and ill-luck have mocked his pretensions to adequately audition for the jam-packed race to eventually succeed Brian O'Driscoll as Ireland's outside centre.

Cave himself acknowledges that this is his fifth season involved in the Irish set-up. However, aside from two starts on the northern hemisphere tour in 2009 and an eight-minute cameo from the bench during the summer, he hasn't been able to frank his status as one of Ireland's brightest back-line prospects.

"I would have liked to have played more than seven or eight minutes but, still, getting on the field against the All Blacks is a good experience," he says.

"I find the more I'm around the squad, the better I get to know all the players, which is a positive thing.

Succeeded

"The better I get to know all the coaches, the better relationships I build up and the more I get to learn from coaches and players – it was a very positive experience for me."

O'Driscoll is, of course, irreplaceable but at some stage he must be succeeded. Other players may seem to hold the nap hand but a decent display this weekend could, however belatedly, fast-track the Holywood man.

"It's a hard one for me to answer," he says. "Sometimes I hear people say, 'Oh, he's not up to it' and to be honest with you I don't know if I'm up to it because I haven't been out there before.

"I think I've put in some pretty good performances in big games with Ulster and I'd like to be given the opportunity to see what I can do at that level.

"I've been answering questions for years about replacing Brian so it's nice that you actually said yourself that he is irreplaceable. I'm not looking to replace him, I'm just looking to try to play rugby as well as I can.

"There's no hiding the fact that when he was running in that hat-trick in 2000, I was only 13 years old.

"I've always looked up to him. He's from the same country and it's the same position, and it's good playing against him.

"He's still probably the best going, and training with him is brilliant. I always keep a wee eye on him because obviously he's done a lot more right than wrong in his career.

"If you look at Brian, he's very good on the ball but he's also one of the best off the ball as well and that's the benchmark for where I'm trying to get to."

Injuries have interrupted previous attempts for Cave to realistically advance his claims, most recently when O'Driscoll was ruled out of last season's Six Nations with a shoulder complaint.

"Yeah, I think a couple of years ago I missed most of the season. Then last season I played a lot of rugby but it was just that crucial time in the Six Nations when Brian was out with a shoulder and neck problem and I was out injured, but I can't control that.

"I mean I'm fit and healthy at the minute and there's plenty of rugby going, hopefully I'll get a game somewhere.

"I think it's my fourth or fifth season in here and coming down to this squad you were thinking, flip, what team will they pick, they could use any number of people, at full-back or centre and that's only backs.

"Everyone around is incredibly motivated to get in the team and the boys that are in the team are determined to stay in it. And the more people outside are talking about the people that aren't playing, it motivates people that are playing.

"There are a lot of players in this squad that are determined now to start driving things forward and start leaving their own legacy as opposed to talking and thinking about the guys that aren't playing."

That sense of renewal is one of the most prevalent features emerging from within a camp that, to the outside observer at least, appears to be enmeshed in irreversible decline.

Nevertheless, Ireland will bristle with attacking intent this weekend. So too will Cave. However comfortable his bed, he won't want to sleep this one out. He has seen too many other opportunities slip through his fingers.

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