Tom Daly says Connacht's Ireland contingent have been "different animals" since returning from New Zealand and backed them to prove the doubters wrong when they take on the DHL Stormers on Saturday.

Connacht came in for some stinging criticism following their one-sided loss at Ulster and they face another daunting challenge in Stellenbosch against the defending champions, live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.

However, Daly said the return of Bundee Aki, Finlay Bealham, Mack Hansen, Dave Heffernan and Cian Prendergast has given the squad a timely boost.

"It's huge, having that depth of experience and leadership coming into the squad," Daly told RTÉ Sport.

"Obviously they're off the back of a huge series win in New Zealand. We saw when they came back into training the energy and positive vibes they were bringing. I'm sure they'll bring that into this tour as well. It's just a nice sprinkle of four or five internationals across the team, which will make a big difference."

Connacht's season got off to a disappointing start in Belfast

He continued: "You look at the likes of Cian and Mack, who were new into the Irish squad. They've come back different animals altogether. They're speaking a lot more in meetings, become a lot more vocal. Having them lads come in and bring a bit of leadership in our group is brilliant.

"Then you've the likes of Bundee and Finlay, who have been long-time leaders in Connacht rugby, coming back as well. Just having them with the group this week is going to give us an extra boost of confidence going down to South Africa.

"We know how tough it is down there but when we have a strong squad like this we can go with a lot of confidence."

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Darren Cave and Bernard Jackman voiced their concerns for Connacht after the heavy loss to Ulster

Connacht never got going in attack against Ulster, with handling and set-piece errors quickly halting their progress, but Daly is confident the new system introduced by attack coach Mossy Lawler will spark into life against the Stormers.

"I've been really impressed with what we were doing throughout pre-season," said the centre.

"Everyone's attack system has their strengths but I'm liking what I'm doing. It's giving me a good chance to show my physicality when I have to but also playmaking a bit out the back of shapes as well.

"I'm just looking forward to getting the chance to actually run it in games and hopefully show my strengths."

Daly scored a try in Connacht's win over the Stormers last season

South Africa has been a happy hunting ground for Connacht, who have won four of their last five matches in the southern hemisphere.

That includes last April’s historic victory over the Lions at Ellis Park, where Daly was among the tryscorers as they became the first Irish side to beat one of the ex-Super Rugby teams away from home.

"You always look at the calendar to see the South Africa trip, it's one you want to be on," said Daly.

"From the rugby side of things it's unbelievable, you get to play in some of these stadiums that you've been looking at since you were a child, and playing against Springbok internationals.

"On the downtime and stuff, you're getting to have a quick look around Cape Town and cities like this.

"It's good that we have it at the start of the year. It's good for team-building, bringing the team together for a couple of weeks. You're with each other 24/7 so you're really going to come together on a trip like this.

"I know the lads had a two-week trip to South Africa a couple of years ago at the start of the season. They went two from two [against the Southern Kings and Cheetahs] and then went on a good run after that. We're looking to emulate that again."

The Stormers will be without some of their Springboks, who are chasing a Rugby Championship title against Argentina later on Saturday afternoon, but hooker Joseph Dweba – a summer signing from Bordeaux – has been released along with lock Salmaan Moerat, while last season's URC Player of the Season Evan Roos is also available.

Connacht defeated three of the four South Africa teams last season, including a 19-17 success against the Stormers in Galway last February, where Daly scored their second try.

"We have the confidence from last year when we went down to the Lions," he said. "They only lost one game at home last year and that was to us.

"We know we can do it down there. We have quite a good record against the South African teams. We'll take confidence from that but we won't shy away from the fact it's a massive challenge.

"They'll be confident but we beat them last year in Galway and will look to do it again."

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