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”

Head coach Andy Friend says Connacht are traveling to South Africa for United Rugby Championship games against Emirates Lions and Cell C Sharks with an ambition to win their games. 

 

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.”

Connacht centre Shayne Bolton is back in his homeland of South Africa and looking forward to this Saturday’s encounter away to the Emirates Lions at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg, kick-off 15:05PM (Irish time)

 

Shayne made the move to Connacht this season and is hoping to get a starting spot in Andy Friend’s match day squad over the next two weekends with two games in South Africa.

 

“It is my first time back in South Africa in about nine months” said the South African.

 

“My parents and girlfriend were waiting for me at the airport when we arrived and the place where we are staying there’s a few restaurants nearby and I’ve been able to have dinner with them and catch up”

 

Playing at altitude is always one of the key adjustments for travelling teams when playing in South Africa and Shayne has been giving advice to team mates on what to expect.

 

“I have been telling the guys about the altitude and hot weather over here on the way but at least it’s not as hot as it usually is”

 

“Usually in the warmups you feel way more tired when training or playing at altitude and your muscles feel more fatigued, but once you get your second breath you get on well”

 

Emirates Airline Park or known to many as Ellis Park is the venue for this Saturday’s United Rugby Championship match and it’s a stadium Shayne has played at before.

 

“I’m from Pretoria which is just down the road from Johannesburg”

 

“I have played at Ellis Park a few times”

 

“Hopefully there will be a big crowd, its usually very hot in the stadium and there wouldn’t really be a breeze blowing through it”

 

Emirates Lions have been in good form of late winning four of their last five matches in the URC.

 

“I think they’ve got a lot of x factor with a few of their players, and they aren’t afraid to play less experienced players, so you are bound to make mistakes when you have new guys coming in but as the season has gone on they have been getting better as the players are getting more game time”

 

“We have to manage the momentum of the game and see how our lungs are going and see how the pack is going”

 

It’s been a new experience for Shayne leaving home and coming to the West of Ireland, but he has enjoyed his journey so far working with the management and players around him.

 

“It has been really enjoyable, but it was hard at the start missing family and with covid around, but I’ve made loads of good friends and the people have been looking after me so well in Galway who are very nice people and so friendly”

 

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