With players returning home after spells in England and others back fit after injury, Connacht coach Michael Bradley reckons the westerners are well placed to recover from their disappointing finishes in the Magners League and European Challenge Cup last season.
Bradley will get his first chance to see his strengthened squad in match action tomorrow evening when they host South Africa in an eagerly anticipated friendly at the Sportsground (kick-off 7.30pm).
Debutants Ofisa Treviranus, Tim Donnelly and Robbie Morris will all be hoping to impress the Connacht management, while there will be much focus on the new combinations at centre – Mel Deane and Aidan Wynne – and half-back, where Donnelly will be partnered by Conor McPhillips, who is more noted as a winger.
Ahead of his side’s first run-out, Bradley said: “Every year each team in the Magners League would look to progress. We’re quite happy with the squad going forward. We’re delighted with the likes of Johnny (O’Connor) and Gavin (Duffy) coming back, Michael McCarthy and Mel Deane.
“We’re also quite excited about Ronan Loughney coming through pre-season. He’s a young player who has had a rough couple of years. Keith Matthews is coming back too after a tough season last year with injuries. We’ve a couple of new faces as well so we’re quite excited about the forthcoming season.”
Bradley senses a mood of optimism around Galway city and beyond that Connacht can make a big impression on Celtic and European rugby in the new campaign, helped by the backing of Bank of Ireland who have renewed their sponsorship of the province.
“It’s an exciting time for us. We’ve the Sportsground sold out (for this game) and after that two warm-up matches against Castres so there’s a couple of very good fixture pre-season for the rugby-loving public of Connacht to go to.
In fairness to Bank of Ireland, they’ve been with Connacht through thick and thin. It’s great that they’re getting recognition for their contribution to Connacht Rugby.”
Turning his attention to tomorrow’s game and the Springboks, Bradley added: “South Africa are facing into the World Cup. This game is part of their build-up – their players know they’re playing for places in the starting fifteen so it’s a big match for them.
“From our point of view, it’s a similar situation but not at the same level. Our approach will be to concentrate on the detail. If you get the detail right of what you’re trying to do in terms of your game-plan then it doesn’t really matter who the opposition are, you’ll be difficult to play against and that will be our attitude for the season ahead.”