Lions want to send off Ackermann as a 'champion'

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 09:11

QUARTERFINAL SPOTLIGHT: The players are determined to 'extend' coach Johan Ackermann's stay at Ellis Park.

Lions captain Jaco Kriel, speaking at a media briefing ahead of their Super Rugby quarterfinal encounter with the Sharks, made it clear they do not want Saturday to be Ackermann's last match as the team's coach.

Ackermann will head to Premiership club Gloucester in England at the completion of the Lions' Super Rugby campaign.

And the players want that to be after the Final on August 5 - hoping to send Ackermann off as a champion.

Ackermann, appointed as Lions coach in 2013, took a group of no-name, unwanted players and turned them into championship contenders - with the assistance of Swys de Bruin, JP Ferreira and Ivan van Rooyen.

Ackermann is the only member of this highly-rated coaching squad that will depart.

The rest will stay on, with De Bruin taking over as head coach.

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Ackermann and his crew turned the Lions into a close-knit family on and off the field.

Kriel said the players will 'miss' Ackermann when he departs.

The Springbok flank added that the team wants to take the emotion out of the game, focusing on the task of knocking over the Sharks on Saturday.

"There's no time to think about it, but obviously it sits in the back of our minds - that he is leaving soon and we want to make him proud.

"All the players got a massive amount of respect for coach [Ackermann] and he is one amazing coach.

"We are going to miss him, but obviously we've got a game to concentrate on this weekend," Kriel added.

The battle at the breakdown will be a key factor.

The Lions' loose trio of Kriel (flank), Albertus Smith (flank) and Ruan Ackermann (No.8) will be up against a formidable Sharks loose trio in Philip van der Walt (captain and flank), Jean-Luc du Preez (flank) and Daniel du Preez (No.8).

Kriel said the Lions are preparing for a massive confrontation at the breakdown and they will have to show plenty of commitment in order to play their natural attacking game.

"They [the Sharks] have some quality players that play towards the ball.

 "They always attempt to disrupt you at the breakdown, especially if you want to play quickly.
 "I believe that's going to be a great challenge for us this weekend, to clear up our own breakdown, to be real accurate," he said.

By Josh Strauss

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