JOHANNESBURG – Johan Ackermann never shared the field with Robert du Preez, either as a teammate or opponent, but on Saturday they will square off as the coaches of the Lions and Sharks respectively.
The two former Springboks will try out-do each other from a tactical point of view from the coaches box, while down on the field their sons, Ruan and Jean-Luc respectively, will try get the better of the other in the heat of battle.
Both are extremely promising players, the sons of former Bok players, they play in the same position – number seven flank – and they are both 21 years old. They were both on Monday also included in the 41-man Springbok group that will train in Stellenbosch this weekend. You think there’s a rivalry ... of course there is.
Their battle at Ellis Park will be a fascinating one. “We’re in the same boat, aren’t we,” said Ackermann yesterday. “It’s going to be a nice challenge playing against Jean-Luc, he’s in good form so I’m looking forward to it.
“I suppose there is a big rivalry between us, considering we play the same position and are the same age, but I respect him, as he does me. We actually chat to each other quite often, so we know each other quite well ... but there will be no time for chatting until after the game.”
Ackermann said it was nice knowing his hard work was being recognised, reflecting on his inclusion in the wider Bok training group. “I’m thankful I’ve been included in the squad ... it is nice being noticed, but it’s only a training camp. My focus right now is on the Sharks.”
And so it should be. The Lions go into Saturday’s match on the back of a patchy second half against the Southern Kings, while the Sharks are coming off a good win against the Cheetahs. There is, however not much between the sides, both having played five matches and won four.
“We tried a few too many things in that second half on Saturday,” said Ackermann, “instead of us just playing Lions rugby. The talk today (Monday) was about us going back to basics, what we know and do well.”
The Sharks, said young Ackermann, would prove to be the Lions’ biggest test so far this season. “They’re a proud team who have a long, rich history. They’ve got a big, strong pack that has played well up to now ... but they’ve added something to their back division this year and we’ve all seen how dangerous they can be, especially with Curwin Bosch in such good form.
“They don’t have many weaknesses and their defence is very, very strong ... we’re in for a big challenge.”
Saturday’s match is the last for the Lions before they enjoy their first bye of the competition and according to Ackermann they want to go into their break in an upbeat mood.
“Of course we want to end this first part of the competition on a good note. There’s a lot of competition in our conference (with the Jaguares also doing much better this season) and if we can pick up another win now it’ll be very encouraging for us. And it’s a derby, and we want to win all of those games, too,” he said.