Johan Ackermann wants the entire Lions squad to enjoy his last days as caoch. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - Lions boss Johan Ackermann has called on his players to enjoy the remaining few weeks they have together as a team before he heads to England.

Ackermann announced last week - when the Lions enjoyed their first bye week of the Super Rugby competition - that he would swop the Joburg-based team for Gloucester at the conclusion of this year’s competition.

He said last week it would be nice if the Lions could go one step further than they did last year and win the competition (they were runners-up to the Hurricanes in 2016) and this week stated it was back to business as usual following his announcement.

“Nothing has changed at training, there’s no difference this week compared to any other week,” he said ahead of his team’s big clash with the unbeaten Stormers at Newlands on Saturday.

“The atmosphere is the same, the routine is the same and the big thing is, the players are now at peace. They may have been unsure about the situation a few weeks ago, but they now know where they stand and what is happening.

“If there was some restlessness a few weeks ago, there is now peace and I want all of us to enjoy the remaining time we have together.”

Ackermann has been credited for playing the major part in turning the once beleaguered team around following their demotion from Super Rugby in 2013, at the expense of the Southern Kings. He took charge after John Mitchell’s axing in 2012, put a squad together in 2013 and started building the team from 2014, creating a culture of brotherly love and caring between the players. Two years later they were the trendsetters in South Africa and played in the Super Rugby final.

Ackermann said his leaving the Lions in a few months’ time would not affect team performance. The Lions are currently on track to again feature in the play-offs, having won five of six matches.

“My situation shouldn’t affect the players. They know I will give 100 percent to the team in the coming months and I expect them to give everything as well. There’s no reason why it should be any different.”

The only difference is assistant coaches Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira might take a little more charge on the training ground than has been the case up to now because they are certainly the front runners to be in charge of the Currie Cup team, once Ackermann heads abroad.

In fact De Bruin, who has turned the Lions into one of the game’s most lethal attacking teams, has been mooted as the likely full-time replacement.

Lions chief executive Rudolf Straeuli, though, has said the union will take their time before naming a replacement to take charge next year when Super Rugby again becomes a 15-team competition.

The Lions go into Saturday’s match on the back of having a week off, but before that they beat the Sharks in a thrilling game at Ellis Park, while the Stormers are unbeaten and full of confidence after getting the better of the Chiefs in just as thrilling a game last weekend.

Ackermann is likely to pick the same group of players who did duty against the Sharks, but fullback Andries Coetzee will first have to pass a fitness test on a sore hamstring.

The Star