This Saturday Connacht Rugby begin their BKT United Rugby Championship away to Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium (k/o 7.35pm).

It’s the beginning of a new season which brings plenty of excitement and opportunities for players to build on the previous season, one of those players being Gavin Thornbury.

The big second-row underwent shoulder surgery in the summer of 2021 and was only expected to be sidelined for a period of up to 12 weeks. However, a series of setbacks delayed his return to competitive action and it wasn’t until the start of April against Benetton when he made that return to action.

After a full preseason under his belt, Thornbury spoke about how he’s feeling ahead of the new season kicking off.

“I feel really good and it was great to get the full preseason under my belt”

“After the season I had last season, just to be out on the pitch and training every day is what I want”

“Preseason has been really productive but at the same time long, but we all can’t wait to get the season started now”

Seven new players have come to The Sportsground this season, one of those being Josh Murphy from Leinster, a player Thornbury knows well and hopes to see bring the aggression and skill to Connacht which he produced so many times while playing for Leinster.

“I’ve played with and against Josh, he’s a very good athlete, extremely intelligent and has that edge about him”

“A few weeks ago against Sale Sharks he showed what he’s about and no doubt will want to build on that”

This summer saw Irish Rugby create history with a historic series win in New Zealand against the All Blacks. Connacht Rugby were represented by Bundee Aki, Cian Prendergast, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Mack Hansen, Pete Wilkins and Robbie Fox on that winning tour. Thornbury spoke of the impact that win has had on the whole squad.

“You get an energy from seeing them do well but its the learning what they bring back that’s the biggest thing”

“Pete going over and getting to see how the international side coach is a huge benefit for us and you can see he’s grown as a coach from it”

“When the lads came back they started drip feeding information straight away as to how we can improve, a brilliant experience for them but now as a group we’re gaining from that”

It’s an interprovincial test in Belfast to start the 2022/23 season and one every Connacht player is looking forward to.

“Its a tough opener for any team playing in Belfast, but it’s an exciting challenge going up there and one we can’t wait for”

“We believe in ourselves, our coaches and our style of play so its time to show what we’re about”

Connacht get ready for their second game down in South Africa this Saturday as they take on the Cell C Sharks at Hollywoodbets Kings Park in Durban, kick-off is 15:05pm (Irish time)

 

As we near the end of season, Connacht Lock Gavin Thornbury is only hoping for more game time after recently coming back from a lengthy spell out on the side-lines due to a shoulder injury.

 

“The last thing I want is a break and the season to end because I just want to keep playing games” said Thornbury.

 

“It was meant to be a twelve-week injury and in week ten I hit a setback and from there every couple of months was a setback, so it was incredibly frustrating”

 

“The physio team were unbelievable, and our S&C Barry O’Brien was incredible and kept me going but it is very frustrating as you just want to play and help the squad”

 

Confidence is high in the squad after last weekend’s win in Johannesburg against the Emirates Lions and this camp is one where the players have been able to spend more time than usual with each other.

 

“The social aspect has been good and obviously getting the win on Saturday just added to it but it’s another big weekend and we are really looking forward to the challenge”

 

“We’re with each other the whole time which is really good as you get to know people more on that personal level which has been really positive, but it does feel different to normal”

 

“We’re lucky enough that both the hotels we’re staying in have good facilities, so we have darts, table tennis and a good pool to use during our time off”

 

Last weekend was a real test for the players when it came to training and playing at altitude which Gavin discussed this week in the lead up to this Saturday’s match in Durban.

 

“When we arrived over last Monday, we had a light session on Tuesday and then big enough session on Wednesday, but I think after that it was a shock to the system because you are gasping for air very quickly which I wouldn’t be used to”

 

“You don’t get used to it as it is very tough, but you do find ways to help yourself and I think the lads did a brilliant job on Saturday being able to control the game in certain aspects and fight through the fatigue from lack of oxygen”

 

The Cell C Sharks have been impressive in the Ultimate Rugby Championship this season including a good win over Leinster on Saturday and Gavin expects another tough test this weekend.

 

“The Sharks are a quality side who are massive set-piece focus team who have a really strong scrum, line-out and maul, they also have x-factor players in the back-line”

 

“It’s a massive challenge and everyone knows it but it’s one again we are really looking forward to”

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