JOHANNESBURG – Ellis Park is all dressed up and waiting to provide a fitting farewell to Lions coach Johan Ackermann.
It will hopefully come after his players do the business against the Crusaders from New Zealand and bag a first Super Rugby trophy for the Joburg union.
After five years in the hot seat and having taken over a team in disarray in 2012, Ackermann will leave for England next week to become the new head coach of Gloucester.
And along with his players, who came up short in the final against the Hurricanes in Wellington last season, he will want to end the 2017 season – and his time with the Lions – on the “ultimate high”.
Ackermann, who played 13 Tests for the Springboks before retiring as the oldest man to turn out for the national side, at 37 in 2008, said today’s final was bigger than any Test match he’s been a part of.
“The interest in this game is amazing. It’s so exciting and, for atmosphere, it’s up there with Test rugby,” said Ackermann this week.
“I won a few Tests in my day, but there was never long-term investment and I was never part of a Bok team that lifted a cup, like a World Cup. Here and there I won a Currie Cup, but this, Super Rugby, is so much bigger than that.
“Having spent the time I have here and helped build this team over the years this is as big as it gets for me. Winning this title would be the ultimate highlight - definitely my biggest rugby moment.”
For everyone involved with the team, and the fans, victory against the seven-time champions would be a fairy-tale finish to a fabulous season – and Ackermann’s time with the union.
The Lions lost only once this year and during the season have produced several Springbok players, who make up the core of the national team.