COACH IS PROUD OF HIS LIONS

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUZYEN

AN­GRY, up­set, dis­ap­pointed and emo­tional ... all these words summed up Jo­han Ack­er­mann on Satur­day night.

There was the red card handed to Kwagga Smith, which the coach felt was a de­bat­able call, the fact his team fell 25-3 be­hind when the Lions knew they couldn’t give the Cru­saders a fast start, and then there was the fact it was his last game in charge of the Lions, the last time he would spend time in the change-room with play­ers he said have be­come men in his five years in charge.

It was a day that was meant to end on a fairy­tale note, but after 80 pul­sat­ing min­utes of the 2017 Su­per Rugby fi­nal it was the Cru­saders who’d come out on top, win­ning 25-17.

They be­came the first side in the 21 years of the com­pe­ti­tion to cross the In­dian Ocean for a fi­nal and win it, col­lect­ing their eighth ti­tle from 12 fi­nals. In so do­ing they ended the Lions’ 15-match un­beaten run at home.

And af­ter­wards, even Ack­er­mann, whether he liked it or not, had to con­cede his Lions were sim­ply out-played by an all-round su­pe­rior team on the day. “The Cru­saders are a very good rugby side. They’ve been good the whole year and been very con­sis­tent. They had one blem­ish (in the last round-robin match against the Hur­ri­canes) but for the rest they were su­perb,” said Ack­er­mann.

“All credit to them. They did their home­work ... and we can’t take any­thing away from them. We can ar­gue about the ‘what ifs’ but tonight they were well de­served winners.”

In­deed, Smith, red-card­ing in the 38th minute cost the Lions dearly – and they sol­diered on gal­lantly with 14 men and cer­tainly fin­ished the match stronger than the visi­tors did, scor­ing two con­verted tries, but when the Lions flank was sent off the Cru­saders were al­ready 12-3 up and very much in con­trol.

“I asked the play­ers at half-time to not give up and they didn’t ... and that was very pleas­ing. There were a few mo­ments that cost us, and al­lowed the game to slip away, but that’s sport,” said Ack­er­mann.

“The red card ob­vi­ously cost us, but then their first try (scored by Seta Ta­mani­valu in the eighth minute) came against the run of play. We were do­ing all the play, but we lost the ball in the ruck, and I believe that score gave them a con­fi­dence boost.

“They also won a few cru­cial line-outs off us at the end and Rohan Janse van Rens­burg went close, too, but lost the ball. If we could have scored late on and made it a one-point game, and then maybe force a penalty ... but it wasn’t to be. At 25-3 down (in the 53rd minute) we left things too late.

“But play­ing with 14 men for so long against the Cru­saders and to get as close as we did, I’m proud of the guys.”

The red-card­ing of Smith stands out as the key mo­ment of the match, but Ack­er­mann said he would not blame his flanker for what hap­pened when he and Cru­saders full­back David Hav­ili went up for a high ball and col­lided in the air, with the vis­it­ing man com­ing off sec­ond best. Ref­eree Jaco Peyper, ac­cord­ing to the laws of the game, had no choice but to send Smith off.

“I don’t think it’s fair on 62 000 peo­ple to pay and then see 14 ver­sus 15. I said ear­lier this year when Rob­bie Coet­zee was red carded how I feel ... and that is that I believe these mat­ters can be dealt with after a match,” said Ack­er­mann. “There was no dirty play in­volved, but rather an in­ter­pre­ta­tion about physics and the law ... but com­mon sense says some­thing else.

“I’m not go­ing to judge Kwagga on one in­ci­dent. He’s a great per­son and he’s been tremen­dous for us the whole sea­son. He’s a great char­ac­ter off the field and been Man of the Match four times this sea­son and we still love and re­spect him.”

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