Lions won't go into their shells
SUPER RUGBY FINAL: The Lions won't let the wild Wellington weather inhibit their approach to Saturday's showdown with the Hurricanes.
The Westpac Stadium is expected to be in the grip of a cold front when the Final kicks off at 19.35 (New Zealand time - 09.35 South African time) - with strong southeasterly winds and rain predicted for the city, with possible snow in the outlying areas between the Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range.
Saturday's high will be a mild 9°C and dropping to near freezing point by kick-off.
However, it was an upbeat Lions coach Johan Ackermann, speaking from the New Zealand capital on Tuesday, who made it clear his side won't go into their shells.
There was further good news for the Johannesburg-based team's fans in that regular captain Warren Whiteley is another step closer to making a return from his calf injury.
Despite arriving at their hotel after midnight on the Monday night - having started the marathon journey on Sunday - the Lions already had a gym session on Tuesday afternoon and a walk-through on the field.
From Wednesday they will increase the intensity in their training.
Ackermann revealed that Whiteley, who was cleared to travel by the team doctor on Sunday, "ran a few sets on his own" after the team walk-through session on Tuesday.
"He has another two days, Wednesday and Thursday, then we'll make the final call on Thursday," the coach said, when quizzed about Whiteley.
"It is looking very good and it seems he will make it and be included in the [matchday] 23," he added.
The other big talking points were the weather, the Hurricanes' impressive defence and the Lions' expansive approach.
Ackermann suggested that New Zealand franchises should perhaps consider playing their mid-winter home games a bit earlier, because most evening games in Aotearoa this time of the year will be 'wet'.
"Maybe it would have been better, because it is a Final, to play it a bit earlier," Ackermann said in the trans-Indian Ocean conference call, adding: "The weather, combined with the pressure of the Final, will have an impact on the game.
"The challenge for us [on Saturday] is to play and adapt if need be.
"However, we can't go into out shells. It is a once-off opportunity that we must enjoy it."
The coach said there is a calmness in the team and the players are approaching this the same as every other game.
"It is the third year these guys are touring together, so they do enjoy it."
He praised the Hurricanes for their defence, which have not conceded a try in more than 220 minutes of Super Rugby.
"Their linespeed [on defence] put teams under pressure, especially in the play-off matches against the Sharks and Chiefs," Ackermann said of the last two games - which the Hurricanes won 41-0 (against the Sharks in the quarterfinal) and 25-9 (against the Chiefs in the semifinal).
"We will have to work hard to break down their defensive wall, but they can also hurt you on attack. They have players who can hurt you from turnover ball.
"Our defence will have to be just as good."
Ackermann made it clear the Lions will play their "natural game".
"Our goal remains to score tries, but it is a Final in which you do not require bonus points.
"Obviously you have to look at the weather.
"They kick tactically well and put you under pressure with their defence. For teams who are used to running from deep, it makes things thought.
"They are a good defensive team, but we do have a few things in place.
"Regardless of who the opposition is, it is about the things we have practiced the whole season and the standards we want to achieve."
Ackermann dismissed the notion that his team produces a carbon-copy of the way New Zealand teams play.
"Swys [de Bruin, attack coach], JP [Ferreira, defence coach] and myself, we all wanted to play a certain brand and play to a certain standard.
"That is still our goal, to play a decent game at the weekend.
"The Hurricanes have an all round game and they are one of the best defensive teams in New Zealand.
"We don't want to compare ourselves with any side.
"We worked hard since December, with small little things that were drilled in continuously. During the campaign we made adjustments and credit to the players, they worked on their skill levels."