Vata Ngobeni.
Take a bow, Johan Ackermann.

In the five years that the former Springbok lock was at the helm of the Lions, they did not only win the Currie Cup unbeaten and made it to two Super Rugby finals, but Ackermann also produced Springboks.

Even though Ackermann didn’t manage to win the one trophy that he was desperate to get his hands on in the Super Rugby, it doesn’t take away the huge contribution he has made in awaking what was a sleeping giant in the Lions.

Not everything that Ackermann touched turned to gold, as my colleague Jacques van der Westhuizen mentions in his comment piece on the thorny issue of transformation, but he put in a lot of hard work for a franchise and union that was dead and almost buried to make them a formidable force again.

Ackermann’s love for his players was obvious in the manner in which the players respected and adored him. And before their employer, all of the Lions players swore allegiance to Ackermann.

It is understandable that the players would do so as it was Ackermann who converted most of them from rejects into world class players who can hold their own against the best that world rugby has to throw at them.

As good a coach as Ackermann has been, which was evident with the expansive and effective rugby the Lions have played, it was the person who stood out.

I’ve got to admit that his imposing figure, big hands - which I was always wary never to find myself at end of a solid klap from - and that cold stare that the roughest and toughest of international locks possess, is a far cry from the well-mannered, friendly and big hearted giant that Ackermann is.

It is the humble human in him that I really appreciated along with his acumen for the game even though most of us struggle to find a happy marriage between a lock and brains.

It is sad to see Ackermann go in the same way it was to hear of the news of Southern Kings assistant coach Vuyo Zanqa and former Blue Bulls coach Hendré Marnitz going abroad.

All of these men are not just good coaches but they are good people and South African rugby will be poorer for their departures abroad.

This all comes down to that old drum I’ve been beating about poor administration and inability of those old men making decisions to plan.

Had there been proper structures and the mother body with a vision, then the likes of Ackermann, Zanqa and Marnitz would have stayed in the country with a clear understanding of where they would be in five years’ time.

There is no doubt in my mind that Ackermann has all the attributes of becoming a good national team coach while Zanqa could be very useful as a skills coach or as the future Blitzbokke coach and Marnitz would be excellent in a role with the junior national teams.

Imagine the intellectual property that many of our coaches have left with to go abroad, be it in Japan or Europe. 

And then there's the former Bok coaches such as Heyneke Meyer, Peter de Villiers and Jake White who were all unceremoniously dumped by Saru with all the knowledge that they had picked up during their tenures in charge of the national team.

Hopefully there is a plan being conjured up by someone influential at Saru to make sure that we keep our top coaches and at the same time create a pipeline for them to reach their potential and the top jobs in the country.

And I don’t believe the hogwash about “good guys finishing last” when it comes to Ackermann losing three Super Rugby finals, in 2007 as lock with the Sharks and 2016 and 2017 as head coach of the Lions, because Crusaders coach Scott Robertson is one helluva nice guy and he has won the competition as both player and now as coach.

Well done to Ackermann for waking a sleeping giant and adding value to South African rugby. Hopefully those old men in suits will finally get a wake-up call on how we can retain our best coaches and make our rugby good again.


Pretoria News