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Cave Ready For Senior Step-Up

Cave Ready For Senior Step-Up

Darren Cave seems to be a young man in a hurry this year. The Ulster centre was a key member of the Ireland Under-20s side that secured a first ever Six Nations Grand Slam in 2007, 24 hours before the seniors were agonisingly pipped at the post for the Championship title by France.

Since then, the 22-year-old Belfast Harlequins clubman has been making steady progress through the representative ranks along with other members of that Ireland Under-20 team.

He worked his way from the Ulster Academy into the senior Ulster squad and spells in the Ireland ‘A’ team at the Churchill Cup and with the Ireland Sevens saw his progress accelerate to the point that this year he has become a constant in the Ulster number 13 jersey.

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This weekend he moves from a white number 13 jersey to a green one, something that was admittedly not in his plans.

Speaking to IrishRugby.ie at the team base in Vancouver, ahead of Saturday’s clash with Canada, Cave said: “Yeah, going into the season I think I would have been happy with 5 to 10 games for Ulster.

“But just through a couple of other centres having injuries and this and that I ended up getting plenty of games and I have been delighted how the season has gone in that regard.

“Obviously I’m now really looking forward to the weekend and winning my first senior cap for Ireland.”

One of the goals of this summer tour from the Ireland management’s point of view is to get more players up to the standard of Test rugby and increase the competition for places come the autumn Tests and beyond.

With the next Rugby World Cup only two years away, that has to be the long-term goal for the new players being tested out by Declan Kidney – there are 11 uncapped players in the squad to face Canada – but Cave’s focus is purely on the job at hand.

“This season I wouldn’t have dreamt of getting an Ireland cap, so it wasn’t actually a goal of mine although I’m delighted that it has come about.

“I suppose yeah, long term I would be delighted if I was included for the World Cup but at the same time it is a long way away and there is a lot of rugby to be played before then, so I’m not getting too carried away thinking about that.”

The young guns of the Under-20 Grand Slammers are starting to become the frontline players of Irish rugby, with this season seeing the likes of Cave, Keith Earls and Sean O’Brien really start to come to the fore and make an impression with their respective provinces.

Thinking back to 2007’s unbeaten run with the Under-20s, Cave still has fond memories of the squad and how they performed in what was a watershed achievement for Irish rugby.

“Yeah, it was strange really when we won the Grand Slam as both France and Italy were playing with Under-21 sides, so for us to actually win was really pretty incredible.

“It was probably down to a number of things and one of them was that there really was an awful lot of quality players in the side.

“As you said, some of the boys are starting to come through now and I fully believe that there will be plenty more to come.

“Cian Healy and Niall O’Connor, who is on the bench for Saturday’s game, played in that side as well. It was a fantastic group of players. The captain David Pollock as well.”

This weekend will present some more members of that vintage with an opportunity to make their mark and take that next step-up, something Cave is really relishing.

“I suppose there are few players that fall into that boat, you know, like myself and Ian Whitten, Ian Keatley in the midfield.

“We’re all about 21, 22 and obviously we are focusing on this weekend, but at the back of our minds we know there is a World Cup in a couple of years time where we will be 23 or 24.

“Obviously I would be delighted to be involved in a World Cup and it’s a long term goal that starts here on the summer tour.”

As Cave mentioned, another player making his debut against the Canucks will be Whitten who lines out inside Cave in an all-Ulster centre combination. What does he make of his colleague’s progress?

“Ian’s done fantastically well. I think he is still in the Ulster Academy technically but he has been up with the senior squad all year and after Christmas he got in and he has played really really well.

“He is probably in the same boat as me in that there were a couple injuries. Obviously Paddy Wallace missed a few games for Ulster with injury and Ian came in and played fantastically well.

“I’m delighted for him as well as myself and I’m looking forward to playing alongside him.”

Playing Canada represents a good challenge to start any international career, especially away from home, which is something that is not lost on the former Sullivan Upper pupil who has had a couple of experiences of playing against them.

“I played against Canada a couple of years ago in the Churchill Cup and you know, they’re a tough side to play against,” he explained.

“Obviously this being a full international it is going to be another step-up again.

“I think the last time Canada played against Ireland in Canada it was a draw (27-27 in 2000) and the time before that we won by three points, so we’re not expecting anything other then a really close, tough game.”

The inevitable scramble to alert family members of his selection in Kidney’s team had to be put on hold as he did not get a chance to ring his parents before the squad went training on Tuesday.

So it was left to the internet to break to the news to an excited Cave family.

“They actually found out through the IRFU website before I had a chance to ring them, so they knew already but they probably had the website open all the time!

“They’ve been following it very closely and they are on route to Canada as we speak. My mum and dad are both coming over for it so they will be at the game with bells on!”