Ackermann: Final is a 50-50
REACTION: The Lions may be underdogs, but they showed in the last two years they do travel well. Josh Isaacson reports.
This is the view of Lions coach Johan Ackermann, after his team reached the Super Rugby Final by beating the Highlanders 42-30 in the semifinal at the weekend.
The Lions on Sunday departed on a gruelling 11,800-kilometre, 15-hour flight to New Zealand - where they will face the Hurricanes in the Final in Wellington this coming Saturday, August 6.
The bookmakers have already installed the home team as favourites.
However, Ackermann said his team is not overawed or fearful of travelling to New Zealand.
"I do believe that finals are meant to be 50-50 and my view is that everybody do have a chance," Ackermann told a media briefing before heading across the Indian Ocean.
"There is travel involved, but this group has won three out of four last year on the road and this year two out of three on the road," the Lions mentor said, adding: "I do believe this group loves to be together and travel.
"It's a once-off game and maybe if we do the right things well on the day it's not impossible."
Last year the Lions beat the Blues, Rebels and Reds during their Australasian tour and this year they overcame the Sunwolves and Chiefs.
Ackermann said the game on Saturday starts at nil-nil.
"The pressure is on them, as it is a home game for them.
"We can just enjoy our game, as we have done for the last few weeks," he said of victories over the Crusaders (42-25 in the quarterfinal) and Highlanders (42-30 in the semifinal).
"We must acknowledge that they [the Hurricanes] are a great side and have good form - so it will be a big challenge."
Having had the tougher route to the Final - overcoming two of the three Kiwi teams that beat them in the league phases - will help the Lions' self belief.
Their path is on contrast to a Hurricanes team who won a one-side quarterfinal 41-0 against a woeful Sharks team and overcame a Chiefs team (25-9) that travelled to South Africa and back to New Zealand in a week.
The Lions have to travel in just one direction across the Indian Ocean.
"It was good to turn the tables on the Crusaders and the Highlanders, but more important for us is to reset [for the Final].
"We must go and enjoy it."
Ackermann believes that his team's tactical awareness in key areas of the game proved to be the difference in their victory over the Highlanders.
The coach said he was impressed with his team's kicking game, especially the way in which the Lions were able to exit from their own half.
"That was quite important to do it well," he said of their exit strategy.
He admitted they can still improve on certain aspects of their game, after conceding points soon after scoring on one occasion.
"It's something we must look at," he said of their exit strategy, adding: "But in general the guys were accurate in that area."
Ackermann added that he was proud of the defensive effort from the Lions and the attitude shown by his players.
"At crucial stages when we didn't have a cushion on the scoreboard, we defended really well and got the turnovers close to our try-line.
"I think there was two or three [turnovers] where they were a few metres away from our line and we got the turnover and relieved the pressure," Ackermann added.
By Josh Isaacson, at Ellis Park