Darren Cave’s hard work has paid off in earning him a start against Romania tomorrow. The Rugby World Cup debutant is determined to add further momentum to Ireland’s tournament challenge with a second pool victory.
For his first RWC 2015 appearance, Darren Cave will have his Ulster colleague Jared Payne alongside him in the centre as Ireland resume their Pool D campaign at the world famous Wembley Stadium.
Cave is one of four World Cup debutants in the Irish starting line-up, along with Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner and Jordi Murphy, and it is clear that he cannot wait to make his tournament bow.
“I’m massively looking forward to just getting on the field. There’s been so much build-up to this World Cup – months, years, answering questions about it, taking about it and training very hard for it,” said the Co. Down native.
“The boys got us off to a good start (against Canada) last week and obviously, as you’ve seen, there’s a few changes for this week. We’ve been working very hard in the background as well, so we’re all looking forward to getting our opportunity.”
Playing in a Rugby World Cup is what every young player dreams of and Cave would have been no different, first picking up a rugby ball at the age of five and thriving at Holywood Rugby Club where his father Brian was a mini rugby coach.
A scrum half initially because of his small stature, he moved to centre at Sullivan Upper School with whom he won the Medallion Shield. He progressed through the Ulster Academy system, impressing for the Ireland Under-20s along the way. Indeed, four members of the 2007 Grand Slam-winning U-20 side are part of tomorrow’s matchday squad – Cave, Keith Earls, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien.
The Ulsterman graduated from a development contract with his province to a full one ahead of the 2008/09 season and has not looked back since, winning 160 caps to date and becoming a regular starter and scorer in the white jersey.
A Churchill Cup winner with Ireland ‘A’ in 2009, Cave has found international recognition harder to come by, particularly during the years when Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy dominated the Ireland centre positions.
But he has won five of his 10 Ireland caps in the last 15 months, including starts against Argentina (twice), Georgia and Wales, and the talented midfielder’s try-scoring exploits in that warm-up game against Wales went a long way to securing his World Cup squad place.
Looking forward to seeing Cave in action tomorrow, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said: “Darren played really well in that first pre-World Cup Test match and I think it’s a super opportunity for him and for us, to see him play.”
The player himself admitted: “It’s going to be a pretty big day for me. Playing a rugby match in front of that amount of people at Wembley Stadium in the Rugby World Cup is something pretty special.
“For now, I’ll probably try not to get too bogged down on the occasion and focus on what’s important. When I hang up my boots, there will be plenty of time to reflect.
“I’ve been working very hard for years, but in particular over the last few months, and I know that come the whistle on Sunday, I’ll be ready to play. I’ve given myself every opportunity to play as well as possible and contribute to the team, and hopefully the team go well.”
Picking up another maximum haul of pool points will be the aim of Cave and his team-mates at a packed-out Wembley. Although it will undoubtedly be an extra thrill for the well-known Blackburn Rovers fan to play at the home of English Football, giving his all for the team is his sole focus.
“We’ve had a good look at a number of the Romanian players earlier the week, and got the opportunity to watch them play (against France) on TV on Wednesday. From then on in, it’s just been about us trying to get our stuff right. We feel if we can get our stuff right, we can put them under pressure,” added the 28-year-old.