Rugby Union

Current Ulster sqaud the strongest I've ever been part of says Darren Cave

Darren Cave is in a running battle for a place in Ulster's midfield  

ULSTER centre Darren Cave believes the depth of international talent among the back division makes it the strongest squad he’s ever been part of.

Despite losing Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall ahead of last weekend’s trip to Glasgow and then Stuart McCloskey going off inside 14 minutes, they still had the depth that saw Ireland starlet Stuart Olding introduced as the latter’s replacement. Cave himself is in a running battle for a place in midfield, with McCloskey, Olding and Marshall all scrapping over the same places.

And with wingers Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble in line for a return in the very near future, Ireland’s first-choice outside-centre Jared Payne could also be pushed into that battle if he is forced out of full-back by new signing Charles Piutau: “I think we have had strong back-lines and teams in the past and teams that are as good, but we definitely never had depth,” says Cave.

“Every week, an Irish international gets injured or unselected and another international comes in. You move a player with Charles’ quality from full-back to wing and everyone is so comfortable and it is a really positive thing. We’re running in training with two back-lines against each other that could easily play and both start in the league and there is usually an unselected back-line, which is interesting with the quality in it and, at the end of the day, we are all better players for it.”

So no harm for him, then, to have scored the opening try at Scotstoun upon the occasion of his first start this season. It was Ulster’s first win there since a Heineken Cup victory in 2012 and their first in the league since the year previous, but Cave admits he was amused by suggestions it was a bogey game for the table-toppers.

“It was nice, it has been a while since I was out there. There was a lot made last week how we hadn’t won a lot at Scotstoun and how it was a bogey fixture for us, which I was quite surprised at because I don’t think it was a bogey fixture," he says.

“I think they are a good team and there are probably a lot of teams that have lost four in-a-row over there. In my experience, I had won over there in Europe, so I wasn’t surprised how tough a game it was, but I also wasn’t surprised that we came out on the right side of the scoreline.”

Getting engaged recently has given him a bit more perspective on life outside rugby and the 29-year-old plans to enjoy what is sure to be a busy few months: “We are stressed trying to get wedding plans sorted, it is a big day for my family, but it is a bigger day for the bride and her family, so I just want to make sure she has a good time," he says.

“The older I have got, the more I enjoy stuff away from rugby. I think, with the pressure there is on players to get that extra one per cent, that is how small the margins are and there is pressure on you consistently to be watching videos, getting your massages done, getting your recovery done, reviewing training, looking at stats. Sometimes, it’s nice to forget about it.”

The pressure will be very much on again on Saturday evening as Ulster look to maintain their 100 per cent start to the season when the Ospreys visit Belfast. With no team ever having won an away semi-final in the Guinness PRO12, the race for top-four has effectively become a race for the top two spots.

Home defeats by Munster and Scarlets last season ultimately meant they had to travel to the RDS, rather than hosting Leinster in the semi-final: “I have played in this league for enough years to know that, if you win all your home games and half your away games, you will be sitting near the top and that is what you have got to do," Cave says.

“The games on the road are tough, even the teams at the bottom are hard away from home and you can slip up so, the more games you lose at home, you have to find that win on the road. If you have aspirations to go to the top, as we do, we have to be putting in big performances at home.”

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