Fearless Lions have title ambitions
INTERVIEW: Golden Lions coach Johan Ackermann will 'experiment' a bit in the Currie Cup, but retaining their title remains top priority.
Ackermann, speaking ahead of his team's opening Currie Cup match of the season against the Pumas in Johannesburg on Saturday, said that building depth is another key aspect of their campaign this season.
And then there is the trial of using dual captains.
The coach said it is nice for the players to focus on a new task, after the loss to the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby Final last week.
The Lions will start the defence of their Currie Cup title without the bulk of their Super Rugby squad - nine on Springbok duty, a couple playing in Japan and a few injuries.
Ackermann is also resting a few of the non-Springbok players who featured in last week's Super Rugby Final in Wellington.
However, there is a handful of his Super Rugby stars that will front up to the Pumas.
"I will lean a lot on the players with Super Rugby experience to lead the squad," Ackermann said.
"[Centre] Howard [Mnisi], [scrumhalf] Ross [Cronje], [prop] Jacques [van Rooyen] and [prop] Corne [Fourie] must help us get a good start," he added.
On top of that, there is the trial of having Mnisi and Cronje as dual captains.
"It is good for the players to share the pressure and decision-making," Ackermann said, adding: "Because we have already had our bye [last week], I can't expect one player to play 80 minutes in every match.
"It will give me the chance to rotate them [Cronje and Mnisi].
"If one of them has to come off, the other one will be on the field. Both have been captain [of the Lions in a match] before.
"It is something I want to try and if it works, next year [in Super Rugby], perhaps I can make Warren [Whiteley] captain with somebody else."
Mnisi said he has played with Cronje often enough and know how the scrumhalf's mind works.
Cronje echoed similar sentiments, saying that "two minds are always better than one".
He felt the 'fearless nature' of the young players in the squad will be of huge benefit.
For Ackermann - apart from retaining their Currie Cup title - the key is to discover some new young talent.
"To me, the Currie Cup is still very special," the coach said.
"The excitement it brings to the union and to hold the trophy is something special.
"The competition to me is still very important.
"The quality of the players are still very high. You can look at the Sharks and Blue Bulls squads, they have a substantial number of Super Rugby players.
"We are going to be tested."
The number of absent players - although being a challenge - is not a major concern for the Lions mentor.
"Next year we are going to have a number of players we will have to manage when they come back from the Springboks and Japan," he said.
"This is where we have to discover the next Jaco Kriel and the next Warren Whiteley.
"We must get our depth sorted. Guys like Cyle Brink, Ruan Ackermann and Victor Sekekete are all players who haven't had a lot of Currie Cup game time - they were all still Under-21 last year.
"The challenge for us as coaches is to see how quickly we can unite the team and get the players up to a certain standard."