Darren Cave and the futile unfairness of pro sport

It’s funny how things can be misconstrued, purposely or otherwise, on Twitter.

Prior to the first Argentina test two weeks ago, I made a fairly off the cuff remark that I hoped Darren Cave, who had just been announced to start the game at 13, would ‘put his money where his mouth is’. Cave, famously, took a fairly sharp line at the end of 2013, with a possibly mistimed and for my money, foolish, statement.

‘Good Face’

Cave’s utterance wouldn’t have sat well with many.

The barb against a twice Lion backrow was particularly uncalled for, considering Heaslip had been made vice captain and was one of the senior leaders in the new Irish side, while Wilson is never likely to play international test rugby again. Here’s a few quotes”

“Unfortunately for me internationally the last few years haven’t gone that well and sometimes you wonder does the face not fit. Any time I’m unfortunate to read a paper that I’m mentioned in, quite often it says how I’m not established for Ulster or not first choice for Ulster, and inexperienced at international level, or for some reason not good enough to be an international rugby player.

“I don’t know how these people see that as I’ve never really had a good crack at doing it.

“I suppose it’s all motivation for me, but I still wonder sometimes does the face not fit. If you don’t know what I mean by that I suppose you should ask Roger Wilson how he has one cap for Ireland and Jamie Heaslip has 60 and two Lions tours behind him.”

Now that looks bad in the cold light of time, particularly considering Ireland’s subsuquent success without Cave.

But Schmidt is a calm and understanding man, and no doubt after an element of contriteness from the player overlooked the comments. At least, he should, simply because Cave, no matter the poor verbalisation, had somewhat of a point.

Cave was always seen as somewhat of a poster boy of Ulster rugby. With Ireland at lower levels, he stood out head and shoulders above the rest. At 27, having consistently played to a solid Heineken Cup standard, he’s never really looked like breaking into the Irish side, partly because of some guy called Brian. But there’s also elements of a mixture of southern media refusal to acknowledge him, a lack of that famed Moneyball term ‘good face‘ in terms of athleticism and speed (he’s hardly SBW, but good enough for international rugby) and partly because of the claims of guys like Fitzgerald, Earls, Henshaw, McFadden and others to the jersey, none of whom have played consistently at 13 bar the Munster man.


I’d be pissed off too, and that was the context of my Twitter comment. Cave is a pro player with a bit of edge. He understands the competition to fill 13 is incredibly hot and has made his claim. My thinking was, with Fitz, Earls and Henshaw out of action, now is the time to put up or shut up.

However, this Summer he didn’t really do either. And that’s a problem for Joe.

Incredibly, Ireland has 10-12 or so games until the WC 2015 kicks off. Whatever your thoughts on O’Driscoll’s long walk into the sunset and indifferent form, that’s been done now and we need to find a replacement.

With Henshaw, Fitz, Earls, McFadden, Bowe and soon, most likely, Payne in the equation, there aren’t many minutes to decide who we go with. Schmidt will want a player to step in and show what he’s made of very quickly. Or else, realistically given the quality of player we’re talking about, the next guy will get a chance. Joe is nothing if not pragmatic and won’t think twice about discarding someone he doesn’t feel fits.

Payne in particular is seen as the saviour, though I have my doubts about his prowess at outside centre. For me he looks far more comfortable in the expanses of 15, given his deceptive footwork and ability to find space. However, he will almost certainly be tried at 13 in at least one of the two meaningful Autumn tests.

Henshaw meanwhile is probably first in line at this stage, and was unlucky to miss Argentina. He would likely have started last week but for injury, and again, will likely be given gametime before the 6 Nations 2015.

After that, we’re into pick and stick territory.

Step forward for your audition Darren.


Last week in rural Resistencia, Cave was fine. Some nice breaks, some missed tackles (though not as many as others), a poor lack of speed while covering back, a general lack of incision, a knock on but a fairly ok game. We can all generally agree on that I think.

After the game, I tweeted, the following.

Of course, the knives came out and again, the statement was taken as meaning something it really didn’t.

My point was, and is, the very same as I said above. Cave has a limited window to impress, and needs to do more than just be ‘ok’ against a scratch Puma side in a Summer test.

On Saturday, McFadden was played at 13, an almost immediate back up of my theory that Cave won’t have much time in that jersey. At 12, the Ulsterman was again quiet, perhaps for good reason.

But pro sport is unfair and you must grasp your chance when it comes. In 180 minutes, Cave, for me, didn’t put his hand up enough. While there are mitigating factors, that’s the reality.

Very easily, we could see Payne start in Autumn, Henshaw come in for Spring and our Darren left to lick his wounds with Ulster in pre-season training camp.

Of course, as we saw with TOL at the last World Cup, anything can happen. But for me, this was a major opportunity missed for an undoubtedly talented guy to stake his claim.

One injury early next year, and that’s realistically the World Cup dream gone for the Hollywood man.

Here’s hoping you get another shot Darren, just make sure to grasp it this time eh?


What do you think? Has Cave missed his chance or am I being harsh? Will he get another before the big kick off in 2015?

  • phat guerilla

    I think Henshaw is a near cert to start at least one of the Autumn internationals, most likely South Africa imo as Ireland will need the physicality. I liked your post about Ulster enforcers, even before recent changes I felt like Ulster were headed towards ‘transition’ but with Humphs gone and a stop gap coach they have to be knee deep in that murky place. Will be a very interesting season for them.

    • shaneoleary1

      Agree on Henshaw, think Payne will also start too, which might squeeze Cave out, plus you have threat of Luke Fitz and others.