Connacht ready to sample South African rugby 'braai'

Connacht will get their first taste of southern hemisphere club rugby on Saturday when they host the Southern Kings at the Sportsground.

The Kings and their South African compatriots, the Cheetahs, were inducted into the Pro 14 after the teams were cut from Super Rugby earlier this year.

Connacht CEO Willie Ruane says the province as well as the other 11 league teams, was very open to the idea of adding South African spice to a pot already brewing with Irish, Italian, Scottish, and Welsh ingredients.

"Everyone entered into it in an open way. We are competing with the English and French leagues and maybe we are a bit more open to the idea of cross border competition because we already take part in it.

"We knew that the competition needed to evolve and expansion was something that we were all committed to. When the opportunity presented itself, Martin Anayi [PRO 14 managing director] and his team did a super job in turning what was an opportunity into a very detailed plan, and something that could be presented to all relevant stakeholders that a hard decision could be made against very tight deadlines - the commencement of the season. It has been signed off on and everyone is very excited about what the future holds.

"There will be a degree of change and teething difficulties, no doubt, which comes with any change but overall it is a move the right direction."

Much was made about the huge distances teams will have to travel down south - some 12,000 miles - and how this will affect player welfare and of course, supporters. But Ruane notes that travel is part and parcel of being involved in professional sports, noting that Connacht have had some epic treks when they have taken part in continental competition.

"We play in pretty cool stadiums across some pretty cool locations and South Africa will be no different at all. The players are used to the travel. We have been to Krasnoyarsk. South Africa is pretty straightforward after that and the South Africans see it as pretty straightforward as well when compared to across time zones which Super Rugby represents."

Looking ahead to the match on Saturday and future clash with the Cheetahs in November, Ruane believes there is plenty for Connacht supporters about which to get enthused.

"I think the idea of having SA teams coming up here and playing in the Sportsground is something the people of Connacht can get excited about. A lot of casual observers have interest in Connacht taking on SA teams There will be an initial novelty factor of course, and that will provide everyone with a spur to come along and to see what they are about. But beyond that, both Southern Kings and Cheetahs play an exciting brand of rugby.

"The Kings have evolved over last few seasons but some of performances they have put in end at the of the Super Rugby season have been really top end and the Cheetahs are steeped in rugby history and tradition. It is an absolutely huge part of the culture in South Africa, and again, they have some really good players and a number of South Africa internationals.

We are excited [about the Kings' match] and hopefully, they are going to bring a lot of quality but not enough quality to beat us. But that is up to us and the performance we put out on the pitch."


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