Ackermann has 'no regrets'
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Jan de Koning spoke to Lions coach Johan Ackermann ahead of the Johannesburg franchise's first appearance in Super Rugby play-offs in two decades.
The couch experts will continue to debate the issue and the merits of the decision will only be revealed at Ellis Park on Saturday.
However, Ackermann has no regrets about sending a B-Team to Argentina and conceding first place on the tournament standings.
Speaking to rugby365 ahead of their Super Rugby quarterfinal showdown with the seven-time champion Crusaders, Ackermann said they have so far achieved every goal they set out since their re-entry into the competition in 2014 - including making the 2016 play-offs.
"It [leaving the A-Team at home] will always be a debate and every person will have a different opinion," the Lions mentor said.
"It is the same when you name a Springbok team and people will differ on the subject," he said.
Ackermann added that three years ago when they returned to Super Rugby they set out a series of goals - which included that they must be competitive in 2014 (achieved), finish in the top eight last year (they finished eighth) and this year the goal was to reach the play-offs.
"Our goal was not to top the table or finish second," the coach told rugby365, adding: "The goal was, as part of our growth, we must reach the play-offs.
"In my view we attained our goals every year - we are in the play-offs and the bonus is that we have a home quarterfinal.
"That is why I have no regrets."
The coach said he is "proud" of his players, that they managed to reach the play-offs, and they have given themselves a chance - with a home quarterfinal - to hopefully go a step further.
"It [leaving the A-Team at home last week] is a call I made and I will back it.
"It is the same when you select certain players every week, you have to live with those calls.
"Sometimes you go into a game with a specific gameplan, then it works or it doesn't work.
"We are very comfortable with where we are at and we are grateful to have this home game."
He added that the dreaded South American bug did get hold of the team that toured.
By Tuesday, a day after the marathon flight from Buenos Aires, a number of members of the touring squad - including the coach himself - were still struggling with a vicious stomach bug and some players were not able to train.
Two of the players who have been unable to train as a result of the bug picked up in South America - Jaco Van Der Walt and Sylvian Mahuza - have been bracketed on the replacement bench.
A call will be made on Friday on which one will be among the reserves..
"I am very happy I have 15 healthy and rested players," he said of his starting XV.
Ackerman said it was a credit to the players that the Johannesburg-based franchise (the Cats excluded) reached Super Rugby play-offs for the first time since 1995.
"They put in all the hard work," he said, adding: "Credit must also go to everybody at the union - from [Golden Lions Rugby Union President] Kevin de Klerk, through [CEO] Rudolph Straeuli and my management team.
"There are also the doctors and physios that worked so hard behind the scenes, Ivan van Rooyen [conditioning], JP [Ferreira, defence] Swys [de Bruin, attack] with their facets.
"It has been a team effort and we are proud of our achievements and there's been some great achievements along the way.
"We beat the Sharks for the first time at Kings Park, we beat the Bulls for the first time at Loftus Versfeld and a few other things to be proud of, like our first win abroad."
Ackermann said it must be remembered that there are three teams this weekend who have a 50-50 chance of advancing the cause of South African rugby next week.
"There are many positives in this game and one of them is that we have a chance to play against one of the best teams in the competition," he said of the Crusaders.
He added that you can't hide away from playing against the best in this competition and hope you only draw weak teams.
"The reality is that in the play-offs all the teams are good."
By Jan de Koning