Lions structures reap rewards
INTERVIEW: The Golden Lions' harmonised structures are beginning to filter through to the junior teams and reaping rewards.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann, speaking ahead of their Currie Cup semifinal showdown with the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday, said he are so many positives to come from this season.
With as many as nine players involved with the Springboks throughout the domestic season, the have fielded a vastly different team from that which won the Currie Cup last year.
"We have developed new players, with a view to [Super Rugby] next year," Ackermann told rugby365.
"All three our teams - Under-19, Under-21 and seniors - are in the play-offs," he said of a weekend which will see the Golden Lions U19 and U21 teams take on their trans-Jukskei rivals the Blue Bulls in their respective semifinals - along with the Currie Cup play-off match in Bloemfontein.
"The great thing about this is that the structures are in place,"Ackermann said, adding: "We are positive that there will be good results this weekend."
He said that for all three Lions teams this weekend it is not about winning or losing, but the way they play and the quality they produce.
That is also why they won't be changing their approach on Saturday, or go into their shells just because it is a semifinal.
"The players know our routine and they know our processes," the coach said.
"We approach it like just another game.
"It will be the same routine and same game plan.
"The key is that we have to execute our game plan."
Ackermann said the big difference this year is that they will be playing the Cheetahs away from home, unlike last year when the Lions won the corresponding game 43-33 in Johannesburg.
The Lions will make some "minor adjustments" because heir team has changed dramatically from last year's victorious Currie Cup outfit.
The most significant names that will be absent from the team sheet this week - compared to the corresponding match in 2015 - are lock Franco Mostert, loose forwards Jaco Kriel (who was captain) and Warren Whiteley, flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff, injured centre Howard Mnisi and fellow centre Nicolaas Hanekom.
"The general approach and game plan are unchanged [from last year]," Ackermann said, adding: "As I have said before, it is about the execution of that game plan.
"More importantly, it is also about the development of the players.
"Our approach won't be that it is a knock-out game.
"[It will be] just like [the game] against the Sharks, when we trailed [0-10 at half-time and 0-13 after 45 minutes] and in the second half used our opportunities," he said of a game his team won 28-16.
The Lions had a couple of try-scoring opportunities and some missed penalties kicks at goal in that first half of their last league match - which they had to win to qualify for the play-offs.
"The same applies to a play-off match like this.
"You will only have so many scoring opportunities and that is why it is important to use your opportunities.
"For us, it is another opportunity to go and partake in something we love and which we are passionate about.
"It is also great to be part of such a big day."
Ackermann also praised the Cheetahs for "bringing spectators back to the game" with an attractive brand of rugby.
"It will be a great game, with both teams playing positive and attractive rugby," he said, adding: "It should be an exciting and entertaining game."
By Jan de Koning