Darren Cave out to cement place in Ulster line-up
Centre Darren Cave is determined to re-establish himself in the Ulster team after enduring a frustrating season which saw him sidelined for much of the campaign with knee and hamstring injuries.
Cave could only play a peripheral role as the Irish province progressed to the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and the last four of the Magners League, but he is determined to make up for lost time.
"Last year was very frustrating for me but now I just want to make sure I'm playing well, contributing and getting picked every week," said the 2009 Young Player of the Year.
"There are plenty of good backs at Ulster at the moment and lots of competition for places, but I want to play as much rugby as possible and help the team to be successful.
"The absence of the guys on World Cup duty gives the rest of us an opportunity to get regular rugby and I want to seize my chance with both hands," added Cave.
The 24-year-old made his mark in Ulster's opening Pro 12 game by scoring his side's opening try in a 24-18 victory over Glasgow.
"We were pleased with how we started and there were a lot of positives from the game, the only negative being that we could have come away with a bonus point if we had been a little more clinical.
"While some of the international players may not be available, those of us who are left think we are good players too and we want to show that we deserve some of the credit for Ulster's success.
"Expectations are higher this year than they have been in previous seasons but that's fair enough as we have a good sprinking of experienced international players, plus lots of young players coming through.
"From a back's point of view it's exciting to have Jared Payne coming in too as I've watched him a lot in Super 15 and he looks incredibly impressive.
"Hopefully if he's picked, I'll be selected in the same backline."
Cave makes no secret of his ambition to add to the two Ireland caps he won during the summer tour of 2009 and realises that last year's injury-punctuated season cost him any chance of competing at the forthcoming Rugby World Cup.
"I knew I wouldn't come into serious contention for the Ireland squad for New Zealand as I missed so many months of last season, but I was just glad to be involved in the build-up to some extent as part of the wider panel.
"I played for the Ireland Select XV against Connacht last month and enjoyed that so that showed I'm still in the coach's thinking.
"There's no point hiding the fact that I'd love to play for Ireland again in the long term but I need to be careful that I don't get ahead of myself, as I maybe did before.
"First and foremost, I need to be getting regular rugby with Ulster, help keep this team going forward, and then there should be a lot more players from Ulster wearing the green jersey."