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It’s a ‘mixed blessing’ for the Pride

Super Rugby
JOHANNESBURG – If Johan Ackermann had it his way Super Rugby would not be put on hold for a month in June.

But the rugby calendar dictates Tests be played next month, necessitating a halt in the Super Rugby competition.

For a team like the Lions though, who won their 10th game on the trot when they beat the Kings at Ellis Park on Sunday, the break could not have come at a worse time. They are on a roll, playing with flair and momentum and they are pretty much injury-free.

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Warren Whiteley and Johan Ackermann, coach of the Lions during the 2017 Lions Press Conference at Ellis Park Stadium. Photo: Aubrey Kgakatsi/BackpagePix

Now, that momentum will be broken and there is no guarantee the team’s Springbok and SA ‘A ‘ players will return to their franchise in late June without niggles.

“It would have been nice to keep on playing for the next three to four weeks,” admitted Ackermann after his side’s eight-try romp against the Kings.

“But there are just not enough weeks to get through all the matches. When I played the final in 2007 (with the Sharks) it was the end of May.

“Right now I’ve got a fit and healthy squad and the team is playing with momentum, so it’s an uncertain time that lies ahead. We’ve got a lot of guys heading to the Boks and ‘A’ teams and all you can do is hope they return injury-free.

“Then again, the New Zealand teams are in the same boat with the All Blacks having a big series ahead of them, it’s just that we have quite a big number of players who’re not going to be resting.”

Indeed, the Lions will have 10 players involved with the Boks over the next four weeks, namely Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel, Warren Whiteley, Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjies, Courtnall Skosan, Andries Coetzee and now also Lionel Mapoe. And turning out for the “A” side will be Andries Ferreira and Harold Vorster.

“The good news is these guys will at least stay fit and they’ll train, which is better than not doing anything for four weeks, but it’s when they come back to us that will be the challenge... a guy like Warren will have played for 80 minutes in all three Tests so he’ll have to be managed on his return. 

Warren Whiteley and Courtnall Skosan. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

"Each individual will have to be evaluated according to how many minutes they played in June, whether they started or came off the bench, or have niggles. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Ackermann though did also see the positive in many of his players turning out for the Boks and ‘A’ sides in the next month. “When I think of guys like Ruan, Courtnall, Andries... they will now play international rugby and will grow as players. 

You’re not going to get a stronger scrum test than against France, Skosan will pick up Test experience, and the others, too, and they’ll come back to us plenty of self-belief and more experience, so it’s not only a negative.

“And, we were able to deal with the June break fairly well last year and in fact probably played some of our best rugby after the break.”

The Lions go into the international break on the back of 10 straight wins having only lost to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires in round three. Ackermann said he was completely satisfied with the work done by his team up to now in the competition.

“It is job done,” he said. “We’ve kept the scoreboard going and still control our own path. We’re still in the hunt and hopefully when we resume we’ll have the same energy and passion we’ve had up to now.”

The Lions’ remaining round-robin matches after the break are against the Sunwolves (home) and Sharks (away).

@jacq_west

[email protected]

The Star

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