Darren Cave has taken the long route to his home debut for Ireland, picking up caps during summer tours to the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Argentina most recently. Sunday’s game against Georgia marks his first Test appearance at the Aviva Stadium.
Darren Cave’s seven Ireland caps to date were won over a five-year period, and he has had to bide his time for opportunities given the long-standing centre partnership between Gordon D’Arcy and the now retired Brian O’Driscoll.
Waiting for a chance in a role which saw O’Driscoll and D’Arcy become the most-capped midfield duo in world rugby was tough to deal with at times.
But the 27-year-old from Holywood, who feels his game has come on a lot since his 2009 breakthrough, is ready to grasp this latest opportunity under Joe Schmidt who handed him two starts against Argentina last June.
Cave will feature at outside centre alongside D’Arcy, who will be winning his 80th cap, as Schmidt’s charges look to make it two wins out of two in the 2014 GUINNESS Series.
Speaking after today’s team announcement, Cave said: “It was those two (D’Arcy and O’Driscoll) for such a long time. But the important thing is not to feel sorry for yourself. You appreciate that they are very good players. Credit to them also for their longevity, not just how good they are. Gordon’s still going strong.
“It’s important not to feel sorry for yourself, just keep improving, improving and improving. The one thing that I probably found most frustrating is that I think I probably have improved a lot since 2009.
“When I first got in the squad I was just there because I was a young lad, I hadn’t really done a lot but I’d played okay and was maybe someone for the future.
“I feel I have improved a lot in those five or six years, and that was probably what can be frustrating. But now here’s an opportunity for me to stop complaining and start playing well.”
Fast forward to the autumn of 2014 and Cave looked set to be watching from the outside once more. An initial call from Schmidt to tell him he was not in the extended squad of 37 was expected by the player himself, given an admittedly ‘stop-start’ opening to the season with Ulster.
What began with some time off in New York last week, however, ended with a call on Sunday from Schmidt telling him that he was to join up with the Ireland squad at Carton House.
“I’ve been around the game a while now and sure it’s a fickle world, professional sport is the most fickle thing. If ever I needed a reminder of that it’s been the last couple of weeks,” he explained.
“It was only two or three weeks ago I was on the phone to Joe, talking about how I wasn’t going to be involved in the camp week. It was a phone call I was expecting, to be honest.
“This year at Ulster has been a bit stop-start for me. I got a shoulder operation in the summer, missed the first game. I played my first game back then, the week after I played eight minutes and popped a rib and then I struggled a wee bit.
“Jared (Payne) came back from injury and played well. I just hadn’t really got going. I know I had played a lot of decent rugby in the past but I wasn’t overly surprised that he (Schmidt) said you were going to miss out this time.”
Then Ireland played South Africa last weekend and with Cave Ulster’s colleague Payne coming off with a foot injury, Schmidt has turned to Cave this week to fill the outside centre berth.
“I got a phone call from him on Sunday saying come on in to camp and I’m thrown in to play there. I’m delighted. It’s a bit more unorthodox than normal but I’m ready to play. It’s not a problem.
“I only came in here (to camp) Monday evening and got wind I might get a game on Tuesday. Only found out on Wednesday. It’s such a cliche, but I haven’t been worrying about the implications of playing.
“I’ve literally been trying to find my feet, learning my detail, doing video and getting ready to play. I haven’t started worrying about who is doing what, how Jared’s foot is and what the implications are for the week after (against Australia).”
Cave has a big chance to impress the coaches as he wins his first cap on Irish soil, and it is clear he is determined to stake his claim for the upcoming game against the Wallabies and the 2015 Six Nations and beyond.
“I just try to play as well as I can when I get the opportunity to play. I suppose that’s all I can do. I would have liked to have played more for Ulster this year, but there’s been a couple of injuries and a couple of bad strokes of luck.
“All that’s forgotten about now, I’m picked to play for Ireland this weekend and hopefully I’ll get a good run-out and give it my all and afterwards I won’t be sitting with any regrets.”
He added: “I’ve never been capped in Ireland before, so having grown up since I was knee high watching Ireland play at Lansdowne Road, now the Aviva Stadium, it’s a big day for me and all my family there, to be getting out and doing that.”