Ackermann's cubs will grow on tour

Sun, 30 Mar 2014 13:55
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Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes the team's next few matches will be a massive learning curve for his inexperienced squad.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes the team's next few matches, as well as the upcoming Australasia tour, will be a massive learning curve for his inexperienced squad.

The Lions have had a remarkable start to their first season back in Super Rugby, after many so-called experts claimed they did not even deserve to return after a narrow win over the Southern Kings in a two-match promotion-relegation series.

Having silenced their critics with four wins in six starts - including victories over the Blues and Reds - Ackermann feels the real challenge starts in earnest after the Johannesburg-based team returns from their bye week.

They have three tough games on South African soil - against the Crusaders, Sharks (both at Ellis Park) and Stormers (at Newlands) - before setting off on an arduous four-match Australasian tour.

Ackermann feels the matches against the defending-champion Chiefs (in Hamilton on May 3), Highlanders (Dunedin, May 10), Waratahs (Sydney, May 18) and Western Force (Perth, May 24) will truly define the Lions' campaign.

The wily Lions mentor has been candid about his squad's inexperience, but remains confident they will learn quickly and be able to adapt to touring.

This comes after the Lions lost their most experienced player, Franco van der Merwe for six months.

"It will be tough for us [going overseas]," he told this website in an interview ahead of the visit by the Crusaders this coming Saturday.

"Once we get closer to the tour [in May] we will try and educate the youngsters on what to expect, and what the roles will be of the first-time travellers, the impact of jet lag and also the temptation to do too much sight seeing," Ackermann said

"We have got three big weeks," he said of the matches on SA soil, adding: "We will have to take it week by week and see where we are after these next three games."

Ackermann said he is a big believer in that there must be that balance between the pressure to perform on the field and the enjoyment of travelling.

"We will have to create enjoyment for the guys on tour, but they must understand that they are there to work and to do a job, not just to have a fun tour," he told this website.

The Lions are bristling with confidence after an incredible fight back against the Reds in their last match before this past weekend's bye.

While Ackermann knows the value of the confidence gained from the triumph, he does not want his less experienced players to allow the success to go to their heads.

"The guys took a lot of confidence out of the performances against the Blues [a 39-36 win] and the Reds [a 23-20 triumph].

"However, we can't just pitch up and play, expecting to win," he told this website, adding: "The challenge is going to be there, so normally after a bye the team can look a bit rusty, hopefully that won't happen to us.

"Rugby is a funny thing, once you get a bit of confidence and you stay humble and you are prepared to work hard then you can do well, as long as you don't fall in the trap of getting arrogant.

"You can never get to a stage where you think you are the best. You must always be willing to work hard from the beginning," Ackermann added.

By Darryn Pollock

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