JOHANNESBURG – The show must go on, according to former Lions and Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann.
The former Springbok lock who is headed to Japan to take up a new role with the Docomo Red Hurricanes is currently in South Africa and, like everyone else, at home and waiting for the greenlight to work again.
After three years with Gloucester and six with the Lions before that, Ackermann’s next job will be in Japan, where he is supposed to start work in July, but due to the coronavirus and international travel being suspended he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to meet up with his new employers.
Ackermann said this week that rugby bosses had to somehow find a way to start up again, even if it meant matches being played behind closed doors.
“Look, this virus has been a big blow to everyone … and the financial impact is massive. But, professional sport cannot afford to go on for too long without there being action,” said Ackermann.
“At some stage a call is going to have to be made. Players and teams can surely take some responsibility for their own hygiene, health and wellness.
“And, if it means playing in empty stadiums then so be it. It’s not ideal and it’s something the players would have to get used to, but for the survival of sport and rugby if that’s what needs to be done for the next six months, then we must do it, as long as rugby can be played.
“At least then some income can be generated from television deals and advertising, and sponsors will get their exposure. Rugby’s got to carry on somehow.”
Ackermann has been in South Africa for two months unable to go back to England to tie up loose ends and greet his Gloucester players and he’s also unable to get to Japan. “I really don’t know when I’m going to be able to get a flight again,” said the former Lions boss.
He added it would just be him and his wife going to Osaka where he will take over from former All Black, Mike Brewer.
“My two youngest children are staying behind in South Africa to finish their studies and find work, while Ruan (who plays flank and lock for Gloucester) is still in England, and staying put,” explained Ackermann.
“Ruan has two months to go before he qualifies to play for England and he’d very much like to have that opportunity as an option. What that might lead to, and what he decides after that, is up to him. He’ll make a call on his career at a later stage.”
Twice a runner-up in Super Rugby, Ackermann said it was a privilege to be able to coach in Japan for the next few years. “I was approached by a few people in this time of no action, including being offered the job to coach Georgia, but I think coaching in Japan will be another great challenge and opportunity for me,” said Ackermann.
“I was actually approached by the same team when I was still at the Lions, so I feel blessed to now be able to join them. There’s lots of security there and I’m excited to experience another part of the world again. I’m not getting any younger you know.”
But, Ackermann, hasn’t fully closed the door on returning to South Africa at some stage to coach here again. “There was an opportunity to return a few years ago to coach one of the franchise teams, and I was really tempted to do it, but it wasn’t the right time for me,” said Ackermann.
“Maybe after a few years in Japan I’ll be keen to come back here … you never know. South Africa is so blessed with talent and depth; it’s incredible. I’ll have to wait and see what happens.”