The Irish province kick-off their first game on South African soil against the Lions at Emirates Airline Park at 3:05 PM Irish time on Saturday coming, April 23rd. Then, the following Saturday, on April 30th Friend’s team will play The Sharks at Hollywoods Bet Kings Park, also kicking off at 3:05 PM.
The Sportsground team have a 2-0 record against South African touring teams this season, boasting victories over the Bulls and the Stormers.
In addition to being excited about locking horns with more high-quality South African teams, Friend says the tour can provide a training environment that can see Connacht build into next season with 28 players chosen to travel.
“Our message coming over here is ‘let's be the first team to have a clean sweep against the South African sides,” the Australian said.
“I know no one has done it to date. We have had a good win against the Bulls and a good win against the Stormers. It’s going to be very tough because there have been 16 games played over here by the opposition over here and only one has been won.
“It's a tall task, but we’re not coming over here just to fulfill two fixtures. We need to keep ourselves winning hopefully, its what we always intend to do, to keep ourselves in the hunt. We need to prove to ourselves that we are worthy of victory and the game style that we have got can actually get us wins and we have seen that throughout the course of the season, but not consistently enough.
Friend believes that the two-game tour will also provide the ideal opportunity to work on tactics and ideas ahead of next season, which was his and the coaching staff’s reasoning behind only selecting players who will be at the province next term.
“It’s also about giving other players opportunities. You will see with the touring squad we have brought over here, there are players that we know will be gone next year and we haven’t brought them because we want to invest in our future,” he said.
“We want to invest in the people who are going to be here next year, give them the opportunity. There’s a chunk of other boys I wish I could have brought over as well, the likes of Colm Reilly and Sean Masterson, and Oran McNulty. These boys who have been knocking on the door but haven’t had a great deal of opportunity.
“We would have loved to have brought them all, but we are also very conscious of the fact that we’re still in the hunt, definitely, and we’re more about having two performances here and one against Zebre when we go home, that will actually solidify the season we’ve had in terms of wanting to be more respected and making sure that we’re putting our game style out there.”