Connacht will hope to put PRO14 victories back-to-back for only the second time this season when they battle the heat and demands of the Highveld against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this evening (5.35pm Irish time).
Connacht’s 23-15 win over the Cheetahs in November came a week after they defeated Munster 20-16 and this evening Kieran Keane will hope that his men back up last weekend’s win in Treviso in similar fashion.
They will also hope that the experience gleaned from previous trips to South Africa by the likes of Keane, defence coach Peter Wilkins and forwards Tom McCartney and Jarrad Butler will stand to them as they bid to oust a Cheetahs side whose defeat by Glasgow Warriors remains their only home loss since enterting the PRO14.
Wilkins, who previously worked with Queensland Reds, is on his sixth tour to South Africa and third to Bloemfontein.
“It’s good to be back here. It’s an exciting place to tour. It comes with its challenges with the travel. But the fact that we have had a full week’s preparation here in getting used to the conditions both in terms of the heat and the altitude it means we have a good amount of time on the training park, manage the boys accordingly, and make sure that they are in the best possible condition for Saturday evening.
“They have adapted well. The conditions certainly do challenge your decision making. Part of that is that literally you are feeling more fatigued at other times than playing at sea level or in cooler temperatures.
“There is the fatigue element, but there is also just the mental hurdle of it. Different groups have approached it differently. Some address the issue early and make the players aware of what to expect in terms of the pace of the game and how they might be feeling physically. Other ignore it entirely. The way we have approached it here is make the players aware it will be different, but we can’t afford to pace ourselves in a game particularly against a team like Cheetahs at home. We can’t stand off and try to preserve energy for 80 minutes. We need to be at maximum value for as long as we can,” said Wilkins.
“We have an excellent bench that we can utilise thereafter. But we can’t have guys worrying about the conditions and not committing fully. This trip is about us delivering the best possible version of our system. As the legs tire, we will bring on fresh legs to continue the job.”
Connacht have made two changes. Ultan Dillane starts in the second row having been released from Irish camp after featuring in the 22-19 win in Treviso, while Pita Ahki, who moves to Toulouse in the summer, also comes into the side.
C Blommetjies; C Barry, F Venter, N Lee, L Obi; N Marais, Z Mkhabela; O Nche, T van Jaarsveld, J Coetzee; J Basson, R Hugo; P Schoeman, H Venter, U Cassiem.
J du Toit, C Marais, T Botha, R Bernardo, O Mohoje, T Meyer, F Zeilinga, S Maxano.
T O’Halloran; C Kelleher, E Griffin, P Ahki, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, J Cannon; S O’Brien, J Butler, J Muldoon.
S Delahunt, D Coulson, D Robertson McCoy, G Thornbury, E Masterson, J Mitchell, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun.
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