Darren Cave is hoping to unleash a year of pent up annoyance against Saracens in the Heineken Cup quarter final at Ravenhill on Saturday.
The side’s met at the same stage in the competition last season and it was the fact that Ulster we beaten by Mark McCall’s men that hurt Cave it was the manner of Ulster’s performance in the 27-16 defeat at Twickenham.
“It wasn’t the fact we lost the game that was the frustration for me, it was how it was such a big game and the fans had made such a big effort to make Twickenham our home and then it was a real misfire and fizzled out,” said Cave
“In fairness to Saracens, they executed their game plan absolutely perfectly and it nullified a lot of what we were trying to do, they thoroughly deserved to beat us and probably unlucky not to go further.”
“It was the feeling that we didn’t even fire a shot. I remember it was Tommy’s comeback and I went off just after the hour and I remember sitting on the bench thinking ‘what a wasted opportunity’.
“You gave your all, but you’re left with that feeling that you should have given more. For me, that’s something I’ll be thinking about a lot going into this game.
Even if we lose the game I want to leave the field thinking ‘we gave it everything and on the day we were just beaten’. I think that gives you a lot more closure.
“For me, and for a lot of the guys, there was a feeling that not only had we been beaten but we feel that we didn’t give a good account of ourselves and that’s something we definitely will be looking to put right, at least we will leave this field going ‘that was as good as we could have given’ and that’s our goal.”
It’s Ulster’s first home quarter final since 1999 and Cave believes it’s going to be a super charged atmosphere.
“I like to park at the bottom of the ground and then I’d walk along the front and have a good look around me. It’s a pretty special place and I was thinking for the likes of Philip Morrow and Mark McCall, I don’t know how many times he played here for Ulster but to come back and see this place it’s a pretty spectacular place now.”
“This place could have probably sold out twice for Saracens and going forward if we keep producing decent displays and good results I can’t see why this place won’t be filled for league matches next year going forward.”
If Ulster can beat Saracens they will have a home semi final at the Aviva Stadium.
“That day we beat Edinburgh in the semi-final is one of the best rugby memories I have and, of course, the beauty of the Heineken Cup is once you get through to the quarter-final that draw is made for the semi-final.”
“No matter what any player tells you the moment you see that semi-final draw and we know we’re at home if we beat Saracens. We’re not focused on that (home semi) but it’s a lie to say it hasn’t popped into the head, I’ve only played at the Aviva once, so for me it would be brilliant.”
It’s Ulster’s fourth consecutive quarter final which they earned as top seeds but no side has ever won the trophy by winning all six group games.
“You try not to take them for granted because of how special they are, this is the first one at home with this group and hopefully it will be a very special occasion and sort of a wee reminder not to take it for granted.”
“The beauty of the Heineken Cup there is no easy quarter-final, technically if you go by the draw we have the easiest quarter-final (being top seeds) but playing Saracens, I’m not sure about that.”
“If that’s the easiest quarter-final tie going then it shows you just what a competition it is.”
Cave has been one of Ulster’s most consistent performers this season not only scoring tries but also creating them and he is hoping for another big showing against Saracens.
“I’ve been happy with how the season’s been going. I think there’s extra competition in the forwards and the backs here at Ulster.”
“I think it’s brought out the best in me and there’s been a lot of speculation recently about who’s going to be playing for Ireland and this and that. It’s a bit of a cliche but the thing I’ve been trying to do is to control what I can control.”
“All I can do is think about my performance and my contribution to the team and that when Mark sits down to pick his team I make sure that he’s thinking ‘I want him in my team at number 13.”
Cave has also had a spell at inside centre this season.
“It was something I really enjoyed and I’m keen to develop it more and more.”
“I’m very confident that the more opportunity I’m given to play number 12, the better I’ll become, but you’ve got Stuart Olding to come back, he’s a 12, Stuart McCloskey coming through is predominantly a 12 and that’s without mentioning Luke Marshall.”
Ulster have been eliminated at the quarter final stage twice in the last three years and have also been beaten in the final and lost a Pro12 final bringing into question their mentality in big games but Cave feels the side is now better equipped to deal with big games.
“Something has changed in the club in that we win a lot more, we lost big games too but I think we’re far more prepared to win games like this.”
“In our front five for instance two of them have won a World Cup and two are British Lions. Now we’ve got Andrew Trimble and Chris Henry back after winning the Six Nations and the more players you can have who can win big games the better you’ll be at it.”
“When I first broke through at Ulster it was almost as if we didn’t know how to win, whereas now we can play terribly and still do enough to win.”