Lions coach Ackermann brings out his big guns against lowly Sunwolves
If there was the notion the Lions would ease back into Super Rugby by resting their large Springbok contingent against the lowly Sunwolves this weekend‚ coach Johan Ackermann emphatically banished it on Thursday.
Ackermann assembled his best available team for the occasion as they hope to stay in touch with the pace-setting Crusaders as the league stages of Super Rugby nears climax.
Regular captain Warren Whiteley‚ is of course unavailable through injury‚ as is inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg‚ while scrumhalf Ross Cronjé is fit again after he missed the third Test against France.
In Whiteley's absence the team will be captained by Jaco Kriel‚ a task the flank rather warmed to when entrusted with the reins last year.
Whiteley's spot goes to Ruan Ackermann‚ while Kriel and Kwagga Smith will pack down on the side of the scrum.
Still‚ Whiteley will leave a huge void.
“There is only one Warren Whiteley‚” Ackermann stressed the point.
“Obviously what he brings to the side is special... his leadership and the work that he gets through as a number eight.
"We played play-offs without him last year as well. Jaco has had that experience as a leader. We must go as far as possible to give Warren a fair chance of taking part again‚” said the coach.
Ackermann's decision to go guns blazing this week was partially influenced by the fact that the Lions have their second bye next week.
“If we didn't have a bye next week I would probably have changed my mind but the reality is in the context of the season this is an important match. If we can bank this one the guys can have a proper break next weekend.”
The coach is hoping his side can quickly pick up where they left off before the competition yielded to the Test window.
Ackermann believes his players came back with a spring in their step.
“All these guys were involved either with the Boks‚ SA A or our team in the SuperSport Challenge. The Boks are on a high in terms of confidence.
"My challenge to them is to play at that level. The same hunger and desire. We are still in this competition. Hopefully we can get the momentum back soon and keep the pressure on the Crusaders.”
Although he is desperate to finish as high on the points table as possible‚ Ackermann isn't too fussed about the minor details on the full points table. For him its all about the accruing wins.
“The points difference won't play a role‚” he explained.
“We'll either be one‚ two or three‚ or whatever. If we keep on winning we are going to challenge for that top spot. If the Crusaders keep winning we will hopefully finish second.
"We still want to play our same brand of rugby. We aren't too worried about the log at this stage.”
The Lions team to play the Sunwolves: Andries Coetzee; Ruan Combrinck‚ Lionel Mapoe‚ Harold Vorster‚ Courtnall Skosan; Elton Jantjies‚ Ross Cronjé; Ruan Ackermann‚ Kwagga Smith‚ Jaco Kriel (captain); Franco Mostert‚ Andries Ferreira; Ruan Dreyer‚ Malcolm Marx‚ Jacques van Rooyen.
Substitutes: Akker van der Merwe‚ Corné Fourie‚ Johannes Jonker‚ Lourens Erasmus‚ Cyle Brink; Faf de Klerk‚ Jacques Nel‚ Sylvian Mahuza.