Dar­ren Cave

The stal­wart cen­tre is a vi­tal part of Ul­ster’s team cul­ture

Rugby World - - FRONT ROW -

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.”

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