Connacht ready for Cheetahs and Bloemfontein

Ultan Dillane and his forward colleagues will need to perform like they did in Port Elizabeth as coach Andy Friend expects a tougher battle up front against the Cheetahs this Saturday. Photo by Michael Sheehan/Sportsfile.

Ultan Dillane and his forward colleagues will need to perform like they did in Port Elizabeth as coach Andy Friend expects a tougher battle up front against the Cheetahs this Saturday. Photo by Michael Sheehan/Sportsfile.

Connacht coach Andy Friend says his players are ready for whatever the Cheetahs and the conditions of Bloemfontein will throw at them whenever kick-off comes around on Saturday at the Toyota Stadium.

The province goes into the clash with Conference A's second bottom side off the back of a 31-14 win over the Southern Kings in the tour opener in Port Elizabeth last Sunday and the Aussie mentor believes the Cheetahs will play a similar high tempo style to the Kings' but will test his charges more in the forwards.

"Cheetahs are a little bit more structured [than the Kings] but they still have those strike weapons which can really hurt you if you let them. They are very similar in terms that they have a lot of speed. They are probably a bit more dominant in the set-piece than what we met against the Kings but we can expect to have quite a similar sort of game. If we are loose with our defence they are going to hurt us."

Much has been made of the effects the conditions have on the opposition to Bloemfontein since Cheetahs inception to the Guinness Pro 14 at the start of last season. With South Africa's judicial capital sitting 4,600 ft (1,400m ) above sea level, oxygen levels are lower than they would be at sea level leaving visiting teams gasping for air as the final quarter approaches in matches. In a bid to combat altitude's effects, Friend, with his experience from his days coaching in Super Rugby has decided to base his side in Cape Town and fly up to Bloemfontein the day before the match.

"There has been a lot of research on [altitude]. I have been over here, probably my 10th time to South Africa, and from my experience and what the research says on it, if you turn up three weeks before, you could probably acclimatised yourself best to it but we do not have that time. I have done it before where we had a week there, we still felt the effects of the altitude.

"We felt given it was a six day turnaround we wanted to come back down to sea level, allow the players to recover from what was a pretty tiring affair yesterday so we will definitely get better recovery here in Cape Town than we would in Bloemfontein given the amount of oxygen in the air and then we will shoot up there and hopefully do a grab and run on Saturday."

With Friend earmarking the forward pack of Cheetahs a step up from the Kings clash, it will have been pleasing for him to see the foundations of Sunday's victory laid by the men up front, a facet of the match which did not escape the coach's attention.

"I thought our forwards laid a very good platform for us and I thought we capitalised on that. The set piece was where I thought the match was one. I thought we scrummaged well and I thought we mauled them very well and we put a lot of pressure on them there. We knew if we gave them open ball and let them have the running then we were going to struggle because there is a lot of speed there and a lot of power there so we tried to keep it very tight which we did and we managed to get some results there out of the set piece."

Despite securing all five match points against the Kings at the NMU (Madibaz ) Stadium on Sunday, thanks to tries from Cian Kelleher, a penalty try, Matt Healy, and Paul Boyle, Friend confirmed that there will be changes made to the starting line-up because of the six day turnaround and to give everyone in the squad game time.

"We will make changes. We have brought 25 players over here and one of the reasons we brought 25 players over is to keep a couple of players fresh and if we had injuries, to cover that but we will definitely look to use the whole 25 while we are here so there is every likelihood there will be a few changes to the starting team that started [on Sunday].

"We have a six day turnaround. [Cheetahs] are a quality side. They had a good win against Treviso [on Saturday]. We know at altitude and with a bit of heat there, it is going to be a tough affair but we will make sure that we will prepare properly and give our best account next Saturday."

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