Stand­out coach says suc­cess must be a

Team ef­fort

CityPress - - Sport - DAN RETIEF dan.retief@city­

Some 20 years ago, there was an in­ci­dent in a club rugby match that caused rip­ples in the Blue Bulls rugby com­mu­nity. A young lock for­ward, play­ing for Po­lice, be­came so in­censed at be­ing sneak-punched by a Tukkies hooker at a game at the uni­ver­sity’s LC de Vil­liers Sta­dium that he ex­acted a bit of ret­ri­bu­tion never be­fore seen in North­ern Transvaal’s tough club en­vi­ron­ment.

The strap­ping young­ster threw down the ball and chased af­ter his as­sailant. The Tukkies player was so alarmed at the big man bear­ing down on him that he ran away … off the field and into the crowd.

But the lock did not back off. He caught up with the ag­gres­sor – who was by then among the fans – and “sorted him out”.

The sage old for­wards in a prov­ince known as South Africa’s “lock fac­tory” nod­ded their heads in ap­proval and pre­dicted that the Bob­bies’ lock would soon play for the Bulls.

That young player was Jo­han Ack­er­mann, cur­rent coach of the Li­ons.

He was picked for the Bulls af­ter his ar­rest­ing per­for­mance against Tukkies and, af­ter a long, in­jury-in­ter­rupted – but nev­er­the­less stel­lar – play­ing ca­reer, he turned his hand to coach­ing.

Ack­er­mann is cred­ited with guiding the un­der­staffed and un­der­re­sourced Li­ons to their most suc­cess­ful sea­son in Su­per Rugby, and turn­ing them into the coun­try’s most ex­cit­ing side.

It seems at odds with his back­ground as a tough, un­com­pro­mis­ing tight for­ward schooled in the con­ser­va­tive Blue Bulls mode, but Ack­er­mann in­sists it is just the al­ter ego of all tight for­wards com­ing to the fore.

“Locks and props also want to run with the ball, you know, and what we did at the Li­ons was im­ple­ment a style suited to our re­sources.

“We looked at our team pro­file and de­cided the way to go was to play to our strengths. We had many play­ers who were not given a chance by other unions – not big enough, not strong enough. But the one thing they could do was run.

“We knew it would be hard and high risk – there were some games we might have won but didn’t be­cause guys maybe took chances they shouldn’t have – but it was part of the process.

“We worked hard on our skill lev­els to be able to play a more dar­ing game. Our vi­sion was to play an ex­cit­ing brand of rugby, to play with flair, to give the guys free­dom to play and re­ally en­joy it,” said Ack­er­mann.

The for­mer Bok is big on the col­lec­tive pro­noun we and is clear that the Li­ons’ turn­around – af­ter a dis­as­trous sea­son spent out of Su­per Rugby – has been a team ef­fort.

He con­stantly gives credit to fel­low coaches Swys de Bruin, JP Fer­reira, Ivan van Rooyen and the play­ers who “have also come up with some ex­cel­lent ideas and tac­tics”.

“The way we play at the Li­ons is a team ef­fort. We have all bought into it; we sup­port each other and we’ll stand or fall by it,” he em­pha­sised.

But make no mis­take, Ack­er­mann is still that ram­pag­ing bull at heart, who re­fuses “to take any non­sense”.

“There have to be grinders. My tight for­wards know my ex­pec­ta­tion on that; I don’t tol­er­ate any­one who shies away from hard work.

“The prin­ci­ples that were drummed into me at the Bulls are still very much part of me be­cause they are in­trin­sic to rugby.

“At the Li­ons, we en­cour­age at­tack­ing rugby, but the tight for­wards know that it won’t hap­pen if they don’t do the hard work.”



Jo­han Ack­er­mann has led the Li­ons to their most suc­cess­ful sea­son in Su­per Rugby

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