JOHANNESBURG - There's a Super Rugby trophy on the line, which potentially makes it the biggest day in Lions history, but all Johan Ackermann wants his players to do is enjoy the moment ... every moment.
They had an opportunity last year, but never really stood a chance in the wet and cold of Wellington as they went down to the Hurricanes 20-3, but are at home in the dry Highveld conditions this time and in front of 62 000 passionate fans.
Awaiting them tomorrow are the seven-time champions, the Crusaders - the most successful team in Super Rugby history. One could say it’s David against Goliath.
“They’re a side full of All Blacks and they’ll punish every mistake,” said Lions boss Ackermann, facing the media for the last time ahead of a big Super Rugby match before heading overseas next week to take up a position with Gloucester in England. “They’re a quality side, but all we can do is focus on ourselves and what we need to do.
“Some of the individuals would have learned a few things from the experience of playing in the final last year, but this is going to be very different. Some players weren’t involved last year, the venue is different, and a lot bigger ... and the guys know they have one shot at it.
“All I can ask of them is to do everything they can for one more 80-minute performance and not have any regrets afterwards.”
Ackermann added his message to the players would be simple. First and foremost he said, they had to start better than they did in the semi-final of last week when, before they knew it, they were 22-3 down against the Hurricanes.
And then, “We can’t slip any box. We have to be good in the set-pieces, in defence ... everywhere. But, most importantly, I want the players to play with freedom, I want them to express themselves ... and enjoy every moment.”
Ackermann added the fans could expect the same type of rugby the Lions have dished up for the past few seasons.
“We play rugby for two reasons, to honour God and to inspire people with an exciting brand of rugby. We’re not going to change anything now ... we’re going to play the kind of rugby that has brought us to this final, but to do that we know we’re going to have to do the small things right first.
“And that is for every player to focus on what he has to do, make sure he fulfils his role and then to be switched on for the full 80 minutes or more ... and then hopefully we’ll get over the winning line.”
Captain Jaco Kriel echoed his coach’s sentiments: “We’ve got one shot at it ... there’s no coming back next week. The players are excited and I’ve told them to enjoy it. The good news is we’re at home and we know the weather will be great.
“For many of these guys, it’ll be the first time they play in front of a full Ellis Park so I want them to take it all in and enjoy it. But they are also going to have to be switched on and do their jobs. I think that’s the lesson we learned from the quarter-final (against the Sharks) and the semi-final (against the Hurricanes) ... we need to be switched on from the start and everyone must buy into it.”
Not surprisingly Ackermann has stuck with the same 23 players who have done duty since Super Rugby resumed after the June break. It is an unchanged squad from the one that got past the Sunwolves, Sharks (twice) and Hurricanes.