JOHANNESBURG – In spite of going into this weekend’s big Super Rugby match with the Stormers at Newlands somewhat “cold”, Lions boss Johan Ackermann believes his team’s bye weekend came at the perfect time.
The Lions will go into Saturday’s match having not played in two weeks while the Stormers are riding high following their thrilling win against the Chiefs last Saturday. Robbie Fleck’s men are full of confidence and they have momentum behind them.
They are the runaway leaders in their conference.
Ackermann though is not too perturbed, even though he knows a massive task awaits his men. “There is no doubt the Stormers are the form team in the competition and they are on their way to the playoffs... in fact they’ll go further than that,” said Ackermann on Monday.
“They are the team to beat in South Africa and it’s going to take something special to get the better of them at Newlands. They’re playing with confidence and belief and you can see the New Zealand influence in their game, from what assistant coach Paul Feeney has brought to the team.
“They’re playing an exciting brand of rugby and their skills levels are extremely high so it’s going to be a huge challenge going there.”
The bye weekend though is exactly what his players needed though, according to the coach. “Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Ruan Ackermann, Ross Cronje, Ruan Dreyer and Elton Jantjies couldn’t train last week because of niggles so the bye came at the right time for them.
“Actually all the players needed the week off. It was a demanding first few weeks and I’m pleased the guys got the rest they needed, not only for the Stormers game coming up, but for the challenges that lie ahead as well.”
Ackermann’s major selection concern ahead of the trip to Cape Town is at fullback where regular starter Andries Coetzee is a doubt. The star No 15 injured his hamstring at the Springbok training camp last Monday and will have to pass a late fitness test before being cleared to play at Newlands.
“He’s 50/50 at this stage, but we’ll see on Thursday or Friday,” said Ackermann. Sylvian Mahuza would possibly earn his first start of the season if Coetzee doesn’t come through the fitness test.
Centre Lionel Mapoe has also got to prove his fitness this week after breaking his hand a few weeks ago. Ackermann said the Springbok No 13 trained with his team-mates yesterday, but he will have to get through other aspects in training today before he will be considered. It is unlikely though Ackermann will change the Janse van Rensburg-Harold Vorster partnership at this stage.
The Lions boss also revealed that Springbok wing Ruan Combrinck is still two weeks away from donning the Lions jersey again. Combrinck underwent shoulder surgery late last year, ruling him out of action until recently, but he is slowly building up his strength to return in a fortnight’s time.
Ackermann will name his lineup for the Easter weekend match on Thursday.