Fearless Lions blood another rookie
INTERVIEW: Golden Lions coach Johan Ackermann has not hesitated to throw no-name brand players or youngsters in at the deep end.
Golden Lions coach Johan Ackermann has not hesitated to throw no-name brand players or youngsters in at the deep end.
This coming weekend, when the competition leaders host newcomers the Eastern Province Kings in a Currie Cup Round Two match at Ellis Park, he will blood another rookie.
Twenty-year-old flyhalf Jaco van der Walt did make his first-class and Currie Cup debut against the Blue Bulls last week, but his first start should not have come till much later in the season.
And it may have been necessitated by the injury to regular pivot Marnitz Boshoff, who left the field 10 minutes into the second half of last Saturday's big (41-13) win over the Bulls, but Ackermann has again showed his fearless nature by backing the young player to make the step up.
It has been an attitude that served the Lions well this year, as they recorded their best Super Rugby performance - as the stand-alone franchise in the professional era - and unearthed a few real gems.
"Bossie [Marnitz Boshoff] is a huge setback," Ackermann told rugby365, when asked about the fractured right arm that will rule his star flyhalf out of action for up to twelve weeks.
And while the other players that were injured in the last week or so are all still out, apart from Boshoff, the rest of the squad that played in the big win over the Bulls will be ready.
Ackermann said he has no hesitation to push the young Van der Walt into the deep end.
"We wanted for him to continue his learning curve, coming off the bench for the next few weeks.
"However, that plan has gone out the window now. Jaco [van der Walt] must now step in, but he has the pedigree.
"He played SA Schools [in 2011 and 2012] and has been earmarked, at a young age, as a future prospect.
"That process will now start a bit earlier."
The Lions mentor said they have showed in the last couple of years that they are not scared to go look for talent in other unions or bring our own young guys into the system.
"This is now the case with Jaco [van der Walt] and hopefully he will do the job for us," Ackermann told rugby365.
Having started the year with a no-name brand team, the Lions finished Round One on top of the standings as one of only two teams to have recorded a bonus-point victory.
However, Ackermann was cautious in his appraisal of last week's 28-point hammering of their Gauteng neighbours.
"It is too early to get too excited," he said, adding: "This competition, in my opinion, is a miniature version of Super Rugby. On the day any team can beat any other team.
"We saw the Pumas [upstage the Free State Cheetahs] and how well Griquas did [against the Sharks], while Western Province and the [Eastern Province] Kings were in a bruising battle.
"We will have to be on the top of our game every week, but there has already been guys who grabbed their chances with both hands [this year] and that is what I now expect from Jaco [van der Walt] and other guys.
"There is the inside centre, [20-year-old] Harold Vorster, who made the most of his chance [against the Bulls last week]."
The Lions was also happy that Ruan Dreyer made the step up in a starting role, following the injury absence of tighthead prop Julian Redelinghuys (calf).
"All those props were involved in the Super Rugby campaign," he said
"Obviously Julian [Redelinghuys] played a lot more, but [Ruan] Dreyer was involved throughout the season and he has been waiting for his chance.
"It is always a pity when it [opportunities] come through injury, but it is now his chance to get game time and show everybody what he is capable of.
"He started [the season] well and the challenge is now to maintain that [standard].
"The challenge remain for us all, as a team, to maintain those standards [set in the first game].
"It is still very early days in the competition, but I am glad the guys grabbed their opportunities."
By Jan de Koning