Connacht are back in action this Sunday against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth after a two week break.
The province currently sits in fifth place in Conference A, only two points off a play-off spot as they prepare for their two game tour of South Africa. Coach Andy Friend says the break came at the perfect time for his side after a run of 10 games.
"Yeah great to be back. I think it was good for everyone to have the break. [It is] Good to see everyone's faces again. Everyone has come back refreshed and ready to go again for this next block [of games]."
It will be Connacht's second sojourn down to the southern hemisphere but this is the first time they will play two matches on the trip. Last season saw the province wilt in the heat and altitude of Bloemfontein as the Cheetahs clawed back a nine point deficit in the final 20 minutes to secure a 26-25 victory thanks to a 79th minute penalty by now departed Niel Marais. With temperatures touching 40 degrees Celsius in South Africa this week, it is likely conditions will have their part to play over the course of the two contests, but Friend says the staff began preparations to combat the effects of the heat and altitude as well as jet lag from the 8,600 mile trip, as soon as the full time whistle was blown against the Dragons two weeks ago.
"As soon as the Dragons game finished, we started to look ahead for what lies ahead of us. We did give the boys some time away but they had some heat acclimatisation they had to get done during their break. We did want to give them some time away but at the same time we are still professional footballers and we need to make sure they are training properly and preparing for what they are going to face over there in Port Elizabeth and then Bloemfontein. I believe we are on track and the boys look good and ready for Sunday."
First up for Connacht is the Southern Kings on Sunday (kick-off 1pm ) at the Nelson Mandela University Sports Stadium. The Kings lie second bottom of Conference B with one win to their name this season but that was against runaway Conference A leaders Glasgow Warriors, and in recent weeks, the Eastern Cape's performances have vastly improved, holding Pro 14 champions Leinster and last season's runner-ups Scarlets, to within one score. And although altitude will not to be too much of a factor with Port Elizabeth only 37 metres above sea level, Friend expects a fast, open, and "aerobic game".
"They are amazing athletes and that is the one thing when you watch their rugby, [it] does not matter if they have got number one or 15 on their backs, they seem to be quick, they seem to be powerful, they are big men.
"We know they are athletes. We know it is going to be a physical and aerobic game but if we stick to our systems, we have enough to handle it."
On the injury front, Conan O'Donnell was the only casualty from the Dragons clash, Friend confirmed the 22-year-old prop underwent surgery and is likely to be out for two months. But the tour sees the province welcome back prop Dominic Robertson-McCoy after a six week ban for stamping on Leinster openside flanker Josh Van der Flier's neck when the teams met in Galway back in September. Friend says the New Zealander is chomping at the bit with a point to prove.
"Dom is back and he is ready to go. It seems like a long time ago that happened but he has a point to prove. He was disappointed with himself but that is well behind us now. It is great to be able to take him and get him back involved."