JOHANNESBURG - Young Ruan Ackermann has yet to play Test rugby, but he’s sure Saturday’s Super Rugby final between the Lions and Crusaders will be very much like a Test match.
The Lions No 8 - who has stood in for regular captain Warren Whiteley at the back of the scrum in the last few weeks - said a sold-out Ellis Park would ensure an atmosphere similar to a Springboks versus All Blacks Test.
“It is the dream final isn’t it? It’s going to be so special, a match between a South African team and a New Zealand team in front of a huge crowd at one of the best stadiums in the world. I don’t think anyone must take this match for granted ... it’s us against the best team to have ever featured in the competition. We must embrace the opportunity because it’s going to be big,” Ruan said.
Ruan was a school boy when the Lions went through their lean years, especially around 2010 and even when his dad, Johan, became coach and the team were relegated from the competition in 2013.
“We all lived through those moments with my dad, being out of Super Rugby and so on, so I have a good idea where the Lions were at that stage,” he said. “So, to get into back-to-back finals, and this time at home, is a real blessing.
“I actually don’t think it has hit home what’s coming on Saturday ... I think it’ll start sinking in on Friday and then, obviously on Saturday morning. Right now we’re just thankful we’ve got this chance after losing the final last year.”
Saturday’s match will be the last for coach Johan, who’ll take up a position with Gloucester in England after the final. For Ruan, it’s going to be a tough day.
“All the players are feeling it a bit and there will be a lot of emotions going through us as we get closer to the game, but for me it’s a little different. I’m not only going to have to say goodbye to my coach, but my dad as well," Ruan said.
“We all certainly want to make sure we can give him the perfect send-off, but he’s already said to us that whatever happens on Saturday is not the be all and end all. He’s told us he is proud of what we have achieved and all he wants is for us to go out there and play, and enjoy it.”
Happy Fathers day🙌🏻 love you paps pic.twitter.com/PwtisUVfFy
As a young 22-year-old there’s been plenty of pressure on Ruan; not only because he is the coach’s son, but because he’s recently had to fill in for Whiteley.
“Ja, filling the shoes of the captain was always going to be a big challenge. And while play at No 8 is not all that different there are changes from what I would normally do at No 7, but I can’t say enough about Warren and how he’s helped me," Ruan said.
“He’s guided me at training, helping with the little things that you only realise when you play in a certain position for a long time, so all credit to him. Warren helped so much in my transition from one position to another.”
Ackermann goes into the game as the leading Lions tackler in the competition and on Saturday will be able to measure himself against arguably the best No 8 to have played the game in the last few years, Kieran Read of the Crusaders.
“Can you believe it ... up against the All Blacks captain. That’s why we respect the Crusaders so much ... they’ve got class players in every position,” Ruan said.