Darren Cave knows a thing or two about Irish interprovincial matches. He has played in 34 of them for Ulster. Few of those games have had as much at stake as this Friday’s GUINNESS PRO12 match against Leinster, with a PRO12 play-off spot the motivation for both sides.
Speaking ahead of the mouth-watering encounter at Kingspan Stadium, Darren Cave said: “I think we are sitting in a decent place. We knew that when it came to this run of three or four games that we had to be right up there in the mix. I suppose you have to take a positive from what happens in the season.
“Not being in the knockout stages in Europe was disappointing but we have to use that to our advantage. It’s nice for us having had a full training week leading into a match week.
“We had that before the Connacht game and I think the performance showed how well prepared we were. To score five tries down there (in Galway) was a great effort and hopefully there will be more on Friday.”
Competition for places in the Ulster team is high, especially with players returning from international duty recently. For Cave, the aim is just to be in the starting line-up.
The experienced centre added: “I’m just happy to be playing. If you had told me at the start of the year that I would have played 20 times for Ulster this season I would have been delighted. There was one game earlier in the campaign when we played Glasgow and I was left out completely and it was probably one of our best performances of the whole year!
“I suppose I have been around long enough to know that it is not about the individual. I have had seasons when I have played 25, 27 games for Ulster and not won anything.
“I am at the stage where I have racked up 150 caps and I really, really want to win a trophy. If you are playing you want to help the team and if you are not playing you do everything to help those that are win.”
With that desire to win shared across the squad and no trophies for the province since 2006, there is certainly motivation in the group going into these upcoming matches. However, Cave believes all five teams chasing a top four spot have plenty to play for.
“Winning something once makes you want it more. Leinster have been hugely successful and I don’t think winning one trophy ever hindered their search for more. My first season was 2006/07 so it’s a long time to have been here with nothing to show for it really. There are some great memories and a couple of medals that are the wrong colour.
“I believe in this team. I said when I renewed my contract that the coaching set-up that we have now is the best that I have experienced at Ulster. There is a great group of players. With these guys coming back having won the Six Nations, the leadership that they bring along with that excitement leaves us in a really good place.
“I know Leinster and Munster are in the same position, but those boys that we have coming back are the real core of our side and when you throw Chris Henry back in the side, then it’s a third of your team.
“At the end of the day, if you want to win the trophy you have to win games like this and you have to beat teams like those we are playing in the next three matches (Leinster, Munster and Glasgow Warriors). The chances are that two or three of these teams will be in the play-offs so we are going to have to beat them if we are going to win the thing.
“They are great teams and we have a lot of respect for them. Glasgow, in particular, have had a fantastic year, but we are a great team as well. We are ready to win something and if we are going to lift the PRO12 trophy then we have to win these matches.”