The stalwart centre is a vital part of Ulster’s team culture
HEN ASKED for his first impressions of Darren Cave, Ulster’s destructive force Iain Henderson doesn’t even need time to think.
“The first time I properly met Darren, he was very welcoming,” he says. “He was living with Chris Henry at the time, in a flat Isaac Boss owned. He’d just come back from a tour abroad earlier that day, and he got in touch and asked if I wanted to go for a few pints together.
“Especially for someone who was around 19 at the time, it was a big deal. I didn’t know him or Chris that well, so to take me under the wing like that, it really made me feel part of the team without me even playing with them yet.”
Talk to any team-mates and you get a sense that Cave – referred to as Cavey, Dazzler or even, at his own behest, the Cave Troll – is at the heart of most social interactions… or really the mischief.
In offering a sense of his own first impressions, scrum-half John Cooney also alludes to this: “I’ve only really known him for a year and he’s definitely very talkative!
“Communication is one of the strongest aspects of his game. Does he give a kick up the arse? He definitely gives a bit of it back if young guys aren’t up on the details. He pipes up a lot in meetings. It’s good to have clarity for them and he sure has that.
He knows exactly what
Wpictures he is seeing, particularly in defence. There’s clarity with every play. Sometimes pictures can change and it can be pretty easy just to react to that. But he tries to pre-empt things – there’s no coincidences with him!”
Repeatedly, Cooney makes it clear that Cave is a talker, cheekily intoning: “He likes the sound of his own voice!”
However, he also heaps praise on the professionalism of the centre, who is currently sidelined after breaking his thumb at Munster in late September.
No one in the Ulster squad has made more appearances than Cave, his 215 senior matches surpassing Rory Best, Henry, Craig Gilroy and Rob Herring.
Cooney puts such longevity down to Cave’s diligence. He always rests well and refuels. In training he will do the necessary reps but won’t overdo it. As the nine concludes:
“He seems to be able to go all day. He is only 31 but has played a lot.”
Team-mates who have seen him in Ireland kit recognise the same commitment. Henderson talks of how impressed he was by Cave’s output during RWC 2015. Cave has not been capped since but has kept throwing his all in with Ulster.
Henderson also says that while Cave gets stick for being slow, he defies critics time and again with the lines he runs and the rate he hits those lines at.
The midfielder loves talking politics according to Cooney – “He should be running Stormont!” – and is hard to stop once he gets going about coffee. Alongside Callum Black, who now plays for Worcester, Cave owns Guilt Trip, a coffee and donut shop in East Belfast.
Cave performs another vital role at the club – the head of social events. So if the players go for a night out, a lunch, bonding days or a few casual beers, the centre is the brains behind a lot of it.
“There was one at the end of last season,” Henderson recalls. “We had a week off playing but we were still training. Under the stadium there’s an area where we do walk-throughs – a big space away from the rain and cold.
“We were all ready for it. But Cavey had organised open bottles of beer everywhere, sitting on ice. We headed down saying, ‘This is going to be a pain… hold on, there’s beer everywhere!’
“Then Darren told us we were going from there, on a bus, to watch some horse racing in Dundalk.”
The way he plays earns respect. But then Henderson says something else: “He’s the heartbeat of the club.”