Lions coach Johan Ackermann has watched his team come a long way. From competition no-hopers, last year the Johannesburg franchise was competitive and eventually finished in a solid mid-table position. This year it seems the Ellis Park outfit wants a play-off spot at a minimum.
Ackermann’s side has started in roaring fashion; first with a good win in Tokyo against Super Rugby newcomers the Sunwolves and on Saturday an excellent win in Hamilton against the Chiefs of New Zealand. Warren Whiteley and his troops managed a 36-32 triumph to make it a dream start with two wins from as many matches, and importantly both outings were on the road.
Coach Ackermann says: ‘(We’re) Thankful for the win, and proud of the players and management. The team showed good control when we were ahead and behind. The players stayed with the game plan and our tight phases were good. We had a few soft moments on defence and although we won, we still have a lot of aspects to work on in attack and defence that wasn’t good and we almost lost the game through our own doing.’ That last sentence would not have been received well, especially by the Highlanders who face the Lions next. Ackermann is keen to keep his players’ feet on the ground and he is leading by example.
Despite the victory he says: ‘Credit to the Chiefs, they just don’t give up. We will enjoy the win because it is a good win, but the competition is still long and there is still a lot of rugby left. We can’t get too excited and every week everything starts all over again.’
Photo credit: WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN / SASPA