Ack­er­mann wants to main­tain the stan­dards

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

JO­HAN ACK­ER­MANN’S mes­sage to his play­ers this week has been sim­ple: Play the kind of rugby that’s brought you to this point and the re­sult will take care of it­self.

They face the big­gest chal­lenge of their de­vel­op­ment un­der Ack­er­mann against the Cru­saders in their quar­ter-fi­nal at El­lis Park to­day (4.30pm kick­off).

It is un­charted ter­ri­tory for the hosts, while the vis­i­tors have fea-

tured in 11 Su­per Rugby fi­nals, win­ning seven of them.

But, while a tough task for the Lions to con­quer to ad­vance to the semi­fi­nals, they have the edge to­day.

Ack­er­mann rested his first-choice team last Sat­ur­day against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. The Lions are also play­ing in front of their fans and have in­spi­ra­tional cap­tain War­ren White­ley back from in­jury, and the likes of Spring­bok fly­half El­ton Jantjies,

to lead the charge. Mean­while, the Cru­saders have had to make a late trip halfway around the world to Jo­han­nes­burg, and were in­volved in an epic New Zealand derby last week, against the Hur­ri­canes. How­ever, the Ki­wis beat the Lions 43-37 in April at El­lis Park and have shown their met­tle in play­offs.

But if Ack­er­mann’s side pro­duce the kind of rugby that saw them top the try-scor­ing charts (71), and win 11 out of 15 matches dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, they’ll be in with a mas­sive shout this af­ter­noon.

“All I want the play­ers to do is live up to the stan­dards they’ve set this sea­son ... to play the rugby we’ve played all year,” the Lions coach said.

“We need to be strong in our set-pieces and pro­duce qual­ity on at­tack and in de­fence. We need to be­lieve in our­selves and stick to the style we’ve adopted all year. There’s no rea­son to change any­thing. We’ve pre­pared well and now it’s up to the play­ers to ex­e­cute the plan.”

Ack­er­mann be­lieves that to­day’s Lions out­fit are also more ma­ture than the one that lost to the Cru­saders four months ago. “We’ve cer­tainly grown as a team since then,” he said.

“We learned from that loss, as well as the one against the Hur­ri­canes, and many of the play­ers have also gone through a pres­sure-filled Spring­bok Test se­ries and they would have picked up a lot there, too, and hope­fully they’ll reap the re­wards of go­ing through some tough ex­pe­ri­ences in the last three years.”

Bu t Ack­er­mann ad­mits the pres­sure o n them has

been ramped up, espe- cially be­cause after last week’s de­feat to the Jaguares.

“I know peo­ple will be dis­ap­pointed if the re­sult isn’t good,” he said. “But, if I look back to where we were at the be­gin­ning of 2014 and now ... in the play­offs, hav­ing pro­duced sev­eral Bok play­ers and the gen­eral growth of the team, then there’s not that much more I can ask for.

“If I look at all those things then all I want this week­end is for the play­ers to go out there and to en­joy the oc­ca­sion. I can ask for a big ef­fort, for a pas­sion­ate per­for­mance ... and then we must let the re­sult take care of it­self.

“But yes, there’s pres­sure, we’re all hu­man ... there are the se­lec­tions, the de­ci­sions we’ve made, the sup­port­ers are hun­gry for suc­cess – they have ex­pec­ta­tions. But also, we’ve done the hard work, and now we must have trust and faith and en­joy the mo­ment.”

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