Tag Archives: Darren Cave

Kidney Embraces Change


Ireland are set for kick-off agains the All Blacks on Saturday. (c) Ken Bohane.

Declan Kidney’s team selection for Saturday’s 1st Test against the All Blacks shows he may be finally changing his loyal ways. With two new caps in Simon Zebo and Declan Fitzpatrick as well as five players who may not have expected to be starting, this is an exciting Irish team at last. Heavily criticised regulars like Donncha O’Callaghan and Gordon D’Arcy have finally been dropped. I, for one, am delighted with this Irish team.

There are interesting combinations everywhere across the field in this fresh-looking match day 22. Starting with the back-three, world-class fullback Rob Kearney is joined by newcomer Simon Zebo and, perhaps even more surprisingly, Leinster’s Fergus McFadden. If I had seen McFadden anywhere in this team, it was at 12 but his hard-working display on the right wing in the Heineken Cup final looks to have convinced Kidney. The 25-year-old will need to shackle the attacking talent of Julian Savea opposite him, but is certainly up to the task.

Much has been made of the choice to bring Zebo on tour ahead of other worthy young wings like Craig Gilroy, Dave Kearney and Tiernan O’Halloran. The Munster speedster is often accused of having a weak defensive game, and that is fair to some extent. From my point of view, Zebo is a 22-year-old with pace, evasiveness and confidence. He has scored 12 tries in 23 games in his breakthrough season. If he had done the same for a Super Rugby side, we would be hyping him beyond belief. Zebo is an exciting natural talent and will only improve with this kind of opportunity.

Simon Zebo Munster's try scorer copy

Simon Zebo is in for his first international cap. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

Brian O’Driscoll and Keith Earls make up the centre partnership for Saturday, and this will be a fascinating combination. By picking that pair, and having Darren Cave on the bench, Kidney has included the three best 13s in the country this season in his match day 22. Earls has been named at 12, but it would be no surprise to see himself and O’Driscoll swap in and out, particularly in defence. I can’t recall having seen Earls playing 12 before but after the impressive season he’s had, his confidence must be high. Up against Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith, the Irish midfield will have a busy day.

The half-backs of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are fairly established at this level by now. Still, Murray’s selection at 9 will be greeted with grunts of disapproval, particularly from Leinster fans. Eoin Reddan’s crisp delivery has helped their attacking game flow this season but I still feel Kidney has made the correct call here. If the rain comes on Saturday, as expected, Murray is more suited to the physical encounter it would bring. Even if it remains dry, I believe that Murray can deliver quick ball. When he first came through at Munster, his service was notably swift. However, this season’s game plans at Munster and Ireland have slowed him down.

The back-row sees one change from the Six Nations, with Peter O’Mahony stepping in for the injured Stephen Ferris. The Ulster flanker is obviously a huge loss, but there may be positives in it too. Firstly, it means a much-needed break for Ferris’ body, but it also changes the attributes of our back-row. Although O’Mahony will wear the 6 jersey, his inclusion is likely to mean Sean O’Brien will get on the ball in attack a bit more. In defence, O’Brien continues to improve at the breakdown. Jamie Heaslip will be eager to put things right against the All Blacks, having lost the head, and the game, back in 2010.


O’Brien may see more of the ball with O’Mahony in the team. (c) Ken Bohane.

Dan Tuohy and Donnacha Ryan in the second-row are two players coming off the back of superb seasons. They’re a completely untested combination, but Kidney has seen sense in dropping Donncha O’Callaghan to the bench. As the heavier of the pair, Tuohy will pack down on the tighthead side at scrum-time. Look out for the locks in phase play as both are aggressive ball-carriers, and are auditioning for a spot beside Paul O’Connell in next year’s Six Nations. New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are bigger boys, but the Irish pair can match them around the park.

Finally, the front-row sees Declan Fitzpatrick in for the injured Mike Ross. The Leinster prop will almost certainly be back from injury for the 2nd Test, so this is Fitzpatrick’s time to shine. It’s certainly a case of being thrown in at the deep end, up against Tony Woodcock but this is what Ireland needed. Much has been written about our ‘tighthead crisis’ and this is the first step on the path to remedying it. Rory Best will need to guide his Ulster team mate through the game. He shouldn’t have any worries about Cian Healy on the other side. The 24-year-old is getting better all the time, and appears to be relishing his scrummaging duties as he matures.

Finally, the inclusions of Ronan Loughney and Darren Cave on the bench are very welcome. Connacht man Loughney will surely win his first cap, as he covers both sides of the front-row. Cave has been in standout form for Ulster all season and deserves a run. Overall, I’m delighted with this Irish team. It’s exactly what I’ve been hoping for. Even if Ireland don’t get close to the All Blacks, I’ll be happy that guys have been given the chance to stake their claim. Us Irish fans have endlessly criticised Declan Kidney’s conservatism in recent months. Now that he has made some exciting changes, we must not take a conservative view ourselves. Bring on Saturday!

Please leave a comment with your views on the team. Right calls? Wrong calls? Who should/shouldn’t be there? Have we got a chance on Saturday?


Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan, Ken Bohane.

The Master and the Apprentice


Brian O’Driscoll celebrates after Leinster’s magnificent Heineken Cup win on Saturday. (c) Ken Bohane.

There’s plenty of coverage in today’s media of Leinster’s incredible win over Ulster in the Heineken Cup final on Saturday. There’s really no need for me to cover the game in a general sense, because it’s all been said by now. Instead, I’m going to focus on one of the key individual battles which Leinster won. They came out on top of most of these positional match-ups across the field, although Paddy Wallace, Dan Tuohy, John Afoa and Craig Gilroy all impressed.

Having played in the centre myself, the midfield area usually draws much of my attention. Saturday’s game saw a really interesting battle of the master versus the apprentice at outside centre. Brian O’Driscoll is a legend of the game, a once in a lifetime player. Opposite him was Darren Cave, of whom I’m a big fan and had previously suggested worthy of a place on Ireland’s summer tour to New Zealand. Cave’s performance on Saturday was excellent, but O’Driscoll proved far more decisive.

Ulster had a strong start to the game, flying out of the blocks and looking more up for it than Leinster in the first five minutes. Cave made a scything break after just 3 minutes (11.50 mark on the video below) as he dummied to an inside runner, completely bamboozling Leo Cullen. Cave almost got around Rob Kearney for the opening score of the game, but the fullback just held on to him. Cullen recovered well to illegally steal the ball and Leinster got away with their early lack of concentration.


(c) Ken Bohane.

It was a clear indicator that Ulster’s outside centre was up for this game. In the piece linked above, I wrote that Cave needed some standout displays on the big stage to win over the doubters and the 25-year-old was definitely intent on leaving his mark. He continued to pose a threat to Leinster’s defence for the remainder of the game, with his 11 runs leaving him behind only Ferris and Afoa in Ulster’s carrying stakes. Cave topped the charts for his side in terms of metres gained while in possession, with 41.

Defensively, the main highlight for Cave was his try-saving tackle on Eoin Reddan in the 22nd minute ( starting at 33.20 on the video below) when he came from a long, long way back to grab the scrumhalf after Gilroy had missed his own tackle. Cave has been defensively excellent all season long, with missed tackles a rarity. He reads the game well and more often than not, puts himself in a good position to make his hits. But shackling O’Driscoll was a far greater task than what he had faced previously.

O’Driscoll again proved himself a medical freak to be playing at all. Once again, massive kudos to Leinster’s backroom staff for enabling him to take to the field. The effort was hugely worthwhile, as BOD was a class above almost everyone else on the pitch. There were only two occasions when he got one on one with Cave, but both times he got around his opposite number. O’Driscoll doesn’t possess the same top-end pace as he once did, but his footwork was enough to show Cave that he has a distance to go if he is to challenge for Ireland’s number 13 jersey.


O’Driscoll’s performance bodes will for Ireland’s prospects in New Zealand. (c) Ken Bohane.

Both times, O’Driscoll shifted his feet, forced Cave to sit back on his heels, then got outside him with a little burst of acceleration. As I said above, Cave’s defensive positioning is a strength and against any other opponent he would have completed the tackles. But O’Driscoll just slipped past him twice. It’s exactly the level that Cave would want to be tested at, and the experience will have been of great benefit to him. (The best example is at 37.36 in the vid below).

O’Driscoll added some world-class touches throughout the game to really stamp his mark. That offload in the build-up to Cian Healy’s try showed exactly how much intelligence and vision Drico possesses. Watch it again from 43.20 in the video and you can see that the Leinster centre knows exactly what he’s going to do  even before the ball is in his hands. Genuinely talented players go through the game with their heads up, scanning the defence and immediately recognising what’s on. It’s yet another example of O’Driscoll’s genius.

Cave appeared to be inspired by the master’s demonstration of skill and even threw in his own little flick pass in the second half, when he ran a switch with Trimble. The flick wasn’t really necessary, but it was encouraging to see that Cave had the confidence to bring it off. And this inspiration is exactly what Cave should be looking to get from the tour to New Zealand now that he has been selected.

He has certainly earned his place on the plane, after what has really been his breakthrough season for Ulster. This is an incredible opportunity for the twice-capped midfielder to take his game to the next level. Training against and learning from O’Driscoll every day will almost certainly show him exactly what he needs to do to push through at international level. Just as playing opposite O’Driscoll on Saturday brought Cave to new heights, touring alongside him is the next step in his learning curve.


Photos courtesy: Ken Bohane.

Prime Opportunity For Cave


Cave (2nd from top) in action during Ulster's quarter-final win over Munster. (c) Sean Mulligan.

In the first ever post here on The Touchline all the way back in November of last year, I suggested Darren Cave as a potential replacement for the then-injured Brian O’Driscoll. Cave’s pre-Six Nations form this season demonstrated that the 25-year-old has the ability to eventually do so. Unfortunately, a foot injury sustained in January prevented any possible international inclusion. Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Edinburgh presents a prime chance for Cave to put himself back in contention.

The Holywood man is back in action now and has played the full 80 minutes of Ulster’s last three games, including the quarter-final win over Munster. Like the rest of Ulster’s backline, he had a quiet game in terms of attack as Munster dominated possession that day. In defence he was as solid as ever, making all 12 of his tackles. It’s very rare to see Cave miss a hit. His defensive positioning at outside centre, an extremely difficult channel to defend in, is always good.

Some Irish fans will have reservations about Cave due to the fact that he is often unglamorous in attack. While Keith Earls, and Brian O’Driscoll is his pomp, can create line breaks from seemingly nothing, Cave is a more direct runner. For Ulster, Paddy Wallace at 12 gets the best from Cave with his creative skills. Wallace’s subtle ability to feed ball-carriers running smart lines is greatly underrated. If Cave is to excel against Edinburgh, Wallace’s fitness will be crucial and thankfully it now looks likely that he will play.


Cave (background) is at his best when Wallace (headband) plays inside him. (c) Liam Coughlan.

At 6’0″ and close to 100kg, Cave is ideally built for his position. He may lack the top-end pace of a world-class 13 but he is very powerful in the contact area. Look back to Ulster’s mauling of Leicester in January, perhaps their most complete performance of the season so far. Cave only carried 5 times that day, but made 25 metres gain in total, beating 2 defenders and creating a clean line-break.

That’s a typical Cave stat sheet. He’ll rarely beat a defence with a lightning fast side-step, but he will repeatedly punch holes. His support play is also a real strength (as illustrated below). I’m not suggesting that Cave is anywhere near his level, but a decent comparison would be with New Zealand’s Conrad Smith. The Hurricanes captain is not particularly flash, but his defensive game is world-class. In attack, he rarely beats someone with jaw-dropping footwork and pace, but his contributions are vital. Quietly and superbly efficient.

Edinburgh’s likely centre partnership on Saturday is Scotland internationals Matt Scott and Nick de Luca. Cave and Wallace should be confident of giving Ulster a clear advantage in midfield. 28-year-old De Luca has 33 caps for his country but has largely failed to excel. He seems to carry a reputation as a creative influence, but the outside centre has never shown consistent evidence of it at the top level. At PRO12 level, he’s a decent provider for Tim Visser.

Inside him, Scott is still only 21. He made his Scotland debut off the bench against Ireland in this year’s Six Nations, looking fairly nervous as he over-ran a couple of promising offloads. On the four occasions De Luca and Scott have played together in the Heineken Cup this season, they have only manufactured a single line-break between them. Their threat is minimal compared to what, for example, Leinster face in the other Heineken Cup semi-final. Cave should be confident of shutting them down.

One argument that might be created against Cave’s inclusion at international level is that he has never bossed a top-level game. His confidence has grown this year; his performance in that mauling of the Tigers being one example. Now that Ulster have returned to the business end of the Heineken Cup, it’s time for Cave to dominate a game. Saturday is a perfect opportunity for him to do so.


Photos courtesy: Liam Coughlan, Sean Mulligan.

Four on Form

Heineken Cup Round 5 Matches

Photo via Jukka Zitting.


Andrew Trimble

Trimble scored two tries in a Man of the Match performance against the Tigers. (c) Martin Dobey.

It was a hard task picking stand-out performers in Ulster’s thrashing of the Leicester Tigers simply because every single one of the Ulster players was on top form. It was a genuinely complete team performance from the northern province. Trimble was chosen as Man of the Match, but the award could have gone to at least five or six other players. Trimble is selected for Four on Form because he has been putting in consistently strong displays for Ulster this season. His two tries on Friday night were well deserved as he put in his usual hard-working shift.

Trimble’s first try was a straightforward dive into the corner after a breathtaking, multiple-phase passage of play from Ulster. More impressive than the finish was the Irish international’s heavy involvement in those phases, carrying and even playing scrumhalf at one stage. For his second, the 27-year-old wing was once again instrumental in the build-up as he hared after Terblanche’s chip and drove Horacio Agulla back over his own line. From the subsequent five metre scrum, Trimble’s finish outside Alesana Tuilagi was sharp.

Aside from the tries, Trimble was busy on and off the ball. He is a complete winger and his level of performance this season makes him a strong contender for one of the wing positions in the upcoming Six Nations. With the possibility of Keith Earls or Tommy Bowe moving into the centre, the Ulster man is the obvious replacement for either. Even if the two World Cup wingers don’t move inside, Declan Kidney might be foolish to leave such an in-form Trimble out of his side.

Trimble’s key stats vs. Leicester:

Tries: 2     Kick/pass/run: 0/6/9     Metres gained on ball: 51                         Defenders beaten: 2     Tackles made/missed: 6/2


Donnacha Ryan

Ryan makes a break against Castres on Saturday. (c) Robbie Ambrose.

Tony McGahan’s post-World Cup decision to install Ryan as first-choice partner to Paul O’Connell was perhaps one of his more controversial selections calls this season. But the Munster coach’s backing of Ryan has been rewarded as the Nenagh man has gone from strength to strength. After his Man of the Match showing against Castres on Saturday, the debate about whether he should be starting ahead of Donncha O’Callaghan looks to be over.

Ryan was everywhere for Munster and gave several perfect examples of the extra dimension he adds to Munster’s game in comparison to O’Callaghan. While the 28-year-old Ryan did all of the tackling and spoiling that O’Callaghan specializes in, he also made some fantastic carries of which his rival is not capable of. Witness his break after 6 minutes, where he showed decent footwork to beat a tackle and then good pace until he was hauled down metres short of the tryline.

There was a similar example later in the first half as the 13-times capped Irish international again broke, this time offloading to Denis Hurley. Admittedly,  the amount of visible work Ryan got through was aided by the fact that he played the majority of this match in the back-row after Niall Ronan’s injury. Indeed, having O’Callaghan on the pitch freed Ryan. Still, he has been equally impressive in the second-row this season. There’s plenty of contenders to partner O’Connell for Ireland, with the likes of Dan Tuohy, Mike McCarthy and Devin Toner playing well. Ryan is most certainly in the mix too.

Ryan’s key stats vs. Castres:

Kick/pass/run: 0/1/10     Metres gained on ball: 34     Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 2     Offloads: 1     Tackles made/missed: 11/1


Sean Cronin

Cronin playing for Ireland against France in last year's Six Nations. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Ian Keatley, Jamie Hagan, Fionn Carr and Sean Cronin. All key players for Connacht last season, all moved away to supposed brighter pastures. At the half-way stage in this season though, only Cronin can be said to have progressed. Keatley has been inconsistent as back-up to Ronan O’Gara while Carr and Hagan have played bit-parts in the Leinster squad. Cronin has had to battle with Richardt Strauss for the number two jersey in Joe Schmidt’s side. This tussle to be first-choice seems to have brought the best out of the younger.

Against Glasgow on Sunday, Cronin was Leinster’s most effective ball-carrier. Even with the likes of Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip in the starting fifteen, it was Cronin who did the most damage with ball in hand. He had eleven carries and while this wasn’t the highest carry count for Leinster, Cronin beat four defenders, more than any other player on the pitch. The Limerick man’s pace is a huge asset and helps him to win most collisions.

While Rory Best has been playing well for Ulster, Cronin’s dynamism is definitely something that Kidney will consider using from the start. The Leinster man offers obvious impact from the bench, but his display against Glasgow shows that he can do it for 80 minutes. Best has had a few hiccups with his lineout throwing, missing three against Leicester on Friday. Cronin’s throwing was almost perfect as he missed only one. Cronin’s time playing second-fiddle to Best for Ireland may be over.

Cronin’s key stats vs. Glasgow:

Kick/pass/run: 0/2/11     Tackles made/missed: 7/1      Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 4     Lineout jumpers hit/missed: 8/1


Darren Cave

The discussion about who should replace Brian O’Driscoll for Ireland has mainly centered around Keith Earls, Tommy Bowe and Fergus McFadden. But another man whose form has given him a chance for Six Nations inclusion is Ulster’s Darren Cave. The outside centre has been impressive for his province all season and a return of four tries from eleven starts is not too shabby. Cave was having another storming game for Ulster on Friday night before picking up a foot injury with twenty minutes left.

Brian McLaughlin will be praying that Cave recovers in time for this weekend’s massive clash with Clermont. The 24-year-old has become a vital part of this Ulster side. His attacking zest and defensive work-rate would be massive losses for the Clermont game. Both of these qualities were on show against Leicester on Friday night.

Cave may not possess the footwork of someone like Gordon D’Arcy or Keith Earls but he runs fantastic lines in attack and his pace allows him to be very penetrative. His distribution skills are good and importantly, Cave recognises when to give the ball. He has a strong offloading game too. Defensively, Cave is full of energy. At close to 100kg, the centre does not specialise in big hits, but he is intelligent in patrolling the 13 channel. With Kidney naming his Six Nations squad this week, Cave has done all he can to deserve inclusion.

EDIT: Cave has cruelly been ruled out for up to six weeks with the foot injury he picked up on Friday, meaning he’ll miss Saturday’s crucial clash with Clermont. It also rules him out of the Six Nations campaign. Very unlucky.

Cave’s key stats vs. Leicester:

Kick/pass/run: 0/6/5     Clean line-breaks: 1     Defenders beaten: 2            Offloads: 2     Tackles made/missed: 6/0     Minutes played: 57


If you missed any of the action over the weekend, check out the Heineken Cup Round 5 Round-Up, which includes video highlights.


Photos courtesy:  Robbie Ambrose, Liam Coughlan, Martin Dobey.

RaboDirect Round-Up

PRO12 Round 13 Matches

Simon Zebo on the way to scoring in Munster's 29-11 win over Treviso. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.


Edinburgh 20-42 Ulster 

Friday 6th January @ Murrayfield

Ulster secured a bonus-point win for the second week in a row with a convincing victory over Edinburgh. Rory Best, Andrew Trimble, Dan Tuohy and Darren Cave scored the tries. Ian Humphreys kicked two penalties before going off injured in the 20th minute. Ruan Pienaar took over the kicking duties from there, knocking over 2 conversions and 4 penalties.

Edinburgh managed to reply with two tries of their own through Nick de Luca and Alun Walker. Scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw converted both tries and added two penalties. But Ulster were fully deserving of their win and Brian McLaughlin was understandably pleased with the performance. This win moves Ulster up to 6th in the table, only 4 points off Glasgow in 4th. Two five-pointers in a row give McLaughlin’s side great momentum ahead of their crucial Heineken Cup clash with Leicester Tigers in Ravenhill on Friday.

Here’s extended highlights from the Edinburgh vs. Ulster game:


Aironi 20-6 Connacht

Saturday 7th January @ Stadio Zaffanella

A shocking performance from Connacht condemned them to their 13th consecutive defeat in all competitions. With the Newport Gwent Dragons winning against the Ospreys on Friday, Connacht have dropped to 11th in the table. Only three points separate them from bottom side Aironi now. While the majority of Connacht’s losses in this current sequence have been by narrow margins, or often undeserving, this defeat in Italy was fully deserved. The sheer amount of unforced errors and bad decisions the players made meant losing was the only possibility.

Samoan winger Sinoti Sinoti scored the only try of the game for the Italians while outhalf Luciano Orquera added five penalties. The only response Connacht could muster was a penalty apiece from Matthew Jarvis and his replacement Niall O’Connor. Connacht were clearly second best throughout and this long run of fixtures has left their squad severely depleted. There is little respite in the next two weeks though, with Heineken Cup fixtures against Toulouse and Harlequins to negotiate before there is finally an extended break with the start of the Six Nations.

You can watch the Connacht vs. Aironi match on the TG4 Player, but to be honest there’s definitely better things you could do with your time! Awful match…


Cardiff 19-23 Leinster

Saturday 7th January @ Cardiff City Stadium

Leinster extended their lead at the top of the PRO12 to nine points with a hard-fought win in Cardiff. This match lived up to the expectations created by both squads naming strong starting fifteens. Unfortunately for Cardiff, Gavin Henson cried off before kick-off due to a calf strain. Still, there were more than enough good players on the pitch to make this a rare top-quality PRO12 game.

Leinster had a fantastic start as Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney crossed for tries inside the first ten minutes. Jonathan Sexton converted both scores to give Leinster a crucial 14-0 lead. Sexton added two penalties and Fergus McFadden kicked a late three-pointer of his own. For Cardiff, Leigh Halfpenny kicked three penalties as well as converting Gethin Jenkins’s try. Dan Parks added a drop-goal. Leinster are now undefeated in 14 games and will look to extend that run away to Glasgow in the Heineken Cup on Sunday.

Here’s the highlights from the Cardiff vs. Leinster game:


Munster 29-11 Treviso

Saturday 7th January @ Thomond Park

Munster got back to winning ways with a bonus-point victory over Treviso on Saturday evening. While never scintillating, Munster did enough to secure the important extra point by scoring four tries. This win moves Munster back up to 3rd in the league and leaves them only a single point behind the Ospreys in 2nd. Munster can now look push on and get into that 2nd position in order to secure a home play-off.

The try scorers for Munster were Niall Ronan, Man of the Match James Coughlan, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo. Ronan O’Gara tacked on three conversions and a penalty. Manoa Vosawai scored a consolation try for Treviso while Kris Burton landed two penalties. Worryingly for Tony McGahan, Ronan managed to injury himself while touching down for his score. Ronan says he is hopeful of being fit in time for Saturday’s Heineken Cup clash with Castres. With Denis ruled out for up to four months and Tommy O’Donnell out for six weeks, McGahan will share Ronan’s hopes.

Here’s the highlights of the win over Treviso (no sound):

You can watch the full Munster vs. Treviso game on the RTE Player.


Here’s how the PRO12 table looks after the weekend’s action:


Photo courtesy:  Ivan O’Riordan.