DARREN CAVE LINED up at outside centre against the Barbarians on Tuesday night and looked as comfortable in green as he has done in the white of Ulster all season.
The centre will travel with the 29-man Ireland squad to New Zealand on Thursday, less than two weeks after appearing for his province in the Heineken Cup Final.
“The last couple of months have probably been the best months of my life, playing rugby,” he said.
I loved playing for Ulster in those big games and now it’s good to be back in the green shirt, even though it has been a while.
The ‘while’ Cave speaks of is three years.
His two caps for Ireland came in short succession, against Canada and the USA, in 2009 and, squad call-ups aside, he has not come close to starting since.
Niggling injuries and the form of Ulster teammate Nevin Spence kept Cave’s name away from the centre debate for some time but his form this season has been hard to ignore.
He scored five tries in 21 outings for his province this season and Andrew Trimble has benefitted from his ability to draw in defenders and offload well in the tackle.
Cave’s defensive abilities also came to the fore in the quarter and semi-finals of the Heineken Cup.
He said, “It is a shame that I haven’t had the opportunity to add to those caps before now but I think that you saw in the Heineken Cup Final that the standard of Irish back play is extremely high.” Cave added:
There are three games now against New Zealand. I don’t know if Declan Kidney is planning on using the same team for every game but hopefully I’ll get a game. That is something I’d relish.
With Keith Earls expected to resume his duties on the wing, and provide cover for Rob Kearney at full-back, Cave’s main competition for the number 13 jersey is national legend and leading Irish try-scorer, Brian O’Driscoll.
When asked if he had a plan to oust ‘BOD’ from outside centre, Cave remarked, “That’s a tough one to answer. If I knew, maybe I would have done it years ago.”