Ackermann has been impressive

30 August 2013 - 03:10 By Simnikiwe Xabanisa

As one of the few people who thought John Mitchell should have stayed on in some capacity at the Lions, I thought his departure would see the team fall apart under Johan Ackermann.

My reasons for thinking that were based on two things: Ackermann's status as one of Mitchell's then assistant coaches, and a prejudice based on the way he looks.

Most assistant coaches tend to make such a career out of laying out cones before practice that they are not capable of making the adjustment to being head coach.

For some reason I put Ackermann in that bracket, based largely on his being a forwards coach and looking like one.

When he was a player, there was a hint of security branch policeman about his appearance, which led one to believe he would be an inflexible git as a coach.

As it turns out, that assessment couldn't be further from the truth. The former Springbok lock has arguably done a better job than "Mitch".

That assertion might rankle with others on the basis that the New Zealander won the 2011 Currie Cup. But consider that Mitchell had the likes of Pat Cilliers, Bandise Maku, Wikus van Heerden, Josh Strauss, Butch James, Michael Rhodes and Jaco Taute in that squad.

Ackermann has had to rebuild the squad almost entirely after the Lions were relegated from Super rugby last year.

For every Elton Jantjies or Taute that has been loaned out, Ackermann has found a Marnitz Boshoff or a Stokkies Hanekom to replace them.

And the critical thing is that he has improved the rugby the Lions play. When Mitchell was in charge, the only structure in the Lions play was to run the ball at all times in a pattern in which the forwards were at their lightest and incredibly mobile.

Ackermann has given back the forwards' appetite for the traditional South African arm-wrestle, while the whole team still plays at that breakneck pace that has made New Zealand sides irresistible.

The most impressive aspect of the rebuilding has been Ackermann's management of it all.

Despite the fact that the Lions basically played for nothing until their promotion and relegation match against the Kings this month, Ackermann kept them motivated, with their eyes glued to the big picture.

In a world in which loyalty is just one big pay cheque away from being bought by a Japanese or French club, Ackermann has epitomised it in such a manner that his players have felt they had no choice but to follow him.

It speaks volumes for his man-management that Jantjies already appears to have rediscovered the confidence he haemorrhaged at the Stormers.

Better yet, there seems to be no sulking from Jantjies despite the fact that he has to share the starting duties at flyhalf with Boshoff.

I know that putting 60 points past a Blue Bulls team that barely shaves hardly makes the Lions the Currie Cup champions in waiting, but it's hard not to look at them as a side that will have a say in who wins it.

And this coming from a Bulls fan from the Eastern Cape.

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