The free-scoring Lions have already scored a whopping 28 tries in five games - the second most in the competition (behind the Hurricanes who have 33) - but they may not have it so easy against Robert du Preez’s well-organised Sharks team in round six.
The men from Durban have only conceded 14 tries in their five matches and with an 87 percent tackle success rate are second overall in terms of defending. Ackermann knows his team will have to play smart rugby on Saturday evening.
“With us up against that defence we’re going to have to be patient,” he said. “Ball retention is going to be important and we’re simply going to have to back ourselves that the cracks in their defence will open up somewhere over the 80 minutes.”
He added his players would have to think clearly before throwing passes.
“We can’t afford to force passes when they’re not on and give them an opportunity to win the ball. We’ve got a plan in place for this game, but it’s going to come down to us being patient on attack. We’ve got 23 players in our squad who like playing with the ball and it’s going to be up to them to out-smart the opposition.”
A win for the Lions before their first bye next weekend - and denying the Sharks a bonus point - would put Ackermann’s men in a very strong position after six rounds of action.
The Lions (19) go into the game with a two-point lead over the Sharks (17) in their conference, with the Jaguares on 18 points, but the men from Argentina have a bye this week. A bonus point win for the home team will put the Lions on 24, seven points clear of the Sharks.
“We know it’s a big game before our bye, everyone is aware of what the situation is, but it’s also just another 80 minutes for us and there are many more 80 minutes to come this season,” said Ackermann yesterday.
“The reality is you need to pitch up each week if you want to go all the way.”
Ackermann has picked the same starting XV that did duty against the Southern Kings last weekend, with the only changes coming on the bench. Corne Fourie comes in for Sti Sithole, while Ross Cronje replaces Sylvian Mahuza. Interestingly, the Lions have two scrumhalves on their bench - Cronje and Dillon Smit.
“Dillon is an exceptional player, with the X-factor and he covers many positions in the backline,” explained Ackermann. “He’s a player who likes to run with the ball and out wide he has that space. Not every scrumhalf has the ability to slot in anywhere, but he can and for this game he’s the right pick.”
Lionel Mapoe, who hurt his hand against the Reds two weeks ago, failed to recover in time for the match, but he is expected to be available after the bye week when the Lions prepare for a meeting with the Stormers in Cape Town.
Lions team: Andries Coetzee, Madosh Tambwe, Harold Vorster, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley, Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen: Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Hencus van Wyk, Lourens Erasmus, Kwagga Smith, Ross Cronje, Jacques Nel, Dillon Smit