Darren Cave is hoping to make up for lost time when he makes his comeback from injury in Saturday’s crucial Champions Cup game with Oyonnax.
The Ireland centre last appeared for Ulster in the Guinness Pro12 win over Edinburgh at the start of December but a shoulder injury has meant he missed six games.
“I just copped a really hard tackle against Edinburgh from both sides and the AC joint just separated so they said four to six weeks,” explained Cave. “I was hoping it would be four but it has been closer to six so slow enough.
“The main thing I learned when I was out was I’m not a good watcher. Watching the Toulouse games I felt very left out as the team was going well and then the games where we didn’t quite get the results Munster and Saracens I felt sorry for the guys and helpless.”
In Cave’s absence Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey have formed a formidable midfield partnership.
“I’ve said it for two years whoever plays the best and most rugby for Ulster in the centre will be there abouts for Ireland. I think this season has shown that more than ever.
“Jared and myself went to the World Cup and we haven’t played together since.
“Stuart Olding is back from injury and all of a sudden everybody remembers that Luke Marshall is still a very good player even though he missed a couple of months last year with a head injury.
“Stuart has done well as well so there are plenty of options for Ulster, when Jared starting playing centre I think that brought on my game I think it raises your game and that is what you want.”
Cave is hoping Ulster can repeat the feat of last year’s final European game when they put Leicester Tigers to the sword at Kingspan.
“I scored a hat trick, we got four tries and a home win, 17 points isn’t going to be enough and I don’t even know if 18 will - but we’ll look after the small thinks and hope we get a good result.”
Ulster will probably have to get the bonus point win and it should be fast and expansive.
“It’s a tough game, Oyonnax are particularity physical as are all the French teams.
“If I look through the fixtures we have played in the last few weeks there hasn’t been an easier so called game to come back into they came thick and fast.
“This year with the world cup the European Cup games have been a bit closer together and in between those European games we have played a whole interpro series so it’s not like there are many easy games to ease yourself back in when you have had a bit of a dodgy shoulder.”
“Toulouse coming to Kingspan you have said oh no it’s a dry night we’d have wanted the rain and the wind, we want to scrum and maul and the fact that was a dry night it suited us to move the ball and I think this week is no different, a nice dry day against a big French team would suit any back that wants to play with the ball in hand.”
Cave missed four European games and two Irish derbies due to the injury.
“Probably the timing of the injury was frustrating as I’d felt the couple of weeks before I got injured we’d played some decent rugby but didn’t get the results the suddenly I get injured and then the Toulouse games go as well as possible, the team was brilliant the ball is being flung from side to side and the centres can’t stop scoring and you are sitting in the stand saying remember me.”
“That was probably more frustrating that we have played well since it’s hard you just look after what you can and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, I’m just trying to get my shoulder healthy as possible and get as fit as possible and put myself in the best possible position when I get back.”