Ackermann wants to maintain the standards
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.”