Super Rugby 2017 Final: Farewell to Johan Ackermann

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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 05: Coach Johan Ackermann of the Lions with his players in warmup ahead of the Super Rugby Final match between Emirates Lions and Crusaders at Emirates Airline Park on August 05, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The Super Rugby 2017 Final did not produce the result the Emirates Lions wanted, but it was still an emotional farewell to Head Coach Johan Ackermann.

Super Rugby 2017 Final: Farewell to Johan Ackermann

There are many facets that contributed to bringing the Lions coach to this juncture in his life. We take a look at Ackermann the player, Ackermann the coach and Ackermann how the players and fans view him.

Johan Ackermann the player

Ackermann’s playing career was varied, littered with both success and disappointment. At school level, he was not selected to play in the crown jewel of South African schoolboy rugby, the Craven week and had to make his way to senior level rugby via club rugby. He suffered a serious knee injury in 1995 which could have ended his career very early. In 1997, he was banned from the game for two years for using the anabolic steroid Nandralone.

On his return to the game, he played most of his rugby in South Africa, except for a brief visit to Northamton Saints. He became the oldest Super Rugby player in history, playing has last game at the age of 37 years, 272 days.

It was probably the varied successes and failures that has helped shape Ackermann to be a very balanced coach, helping the players under his tutelage deal with their own successes and failures.

Johan Ackermann the coach

Johan Ackermann started his senior coaching career as forward coach for the Lions under then head coach, John Mitchell.

After a tumultuous 2012 season, Mitchell elected to leave the Lions and took up the position of head coach at Sale Sharks in England. This was the same year that it was decided that the Kings would replace the bottom placed South African Rugby team in Super Rugby and the sword fell on the Lions for the 2013 rugby season. This lead to a mass exodus of players at the end of the 2012 season.

It was under these calamitous circumstances that Ackermann stepped up from the position of forwards coach under Mitchell to take on the head coach mantle, a move that very few people would have been brave enough to make.

The Lions knew that they had a chance to regain their Super Rugby status as there would be a promotion relegation series against the lowest placed South African team that year. The problem they faced though was that they would not have any quality opposition to test themselves against before the planned playoff series. The Lions arranged a series of games against varied opposition to prepare themselves in the all or nothing promotion relegation games they would be taking part in at the end of the Super Rugby season. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Lions defeated the Kings and started their journey to re-kindling the successes of the Lions (Transvaal) teams of the early to mid 1990’s. Ackermann has a South African Coach of the Year trophy on the mantle piece, two Super Rugby finals a Currie Cup title and was once a losing finalist. Ackermann was also given the reigns of the South African A side over the last two years.

Under Ackermann the Lions have become known for a much more expansive game plan that has traditionally been the case in South African rugby. Their intensity and tempo has also been well above what was accepted as the norm.

The Emirates Lions teams and fans will miss Ackermann now that he departs for Gloucester Rugby to take on a new challenge and grow further as a coach. Many are tipping him to return to South Africa one day to take on the big one… the Springbok coach job.

Johan Ackerman – The players and fans comments

After the final, Jaco Kriel stated that Ackermann was like a father to him. Fans enjoy him for wearing his heart on his sleeve. When things go according to plan, Ackermann is the first to initiate a round of high fives in the coach’s box. When things go wrong, pity the poor table that gets hammered by a rather large fist. The passion for the game and his team is obvious. Other fans have respect for him as he is centered around his Christian faith. Warren Whiteley had this to say about him, courtesy of Supersport:

The Super Rugby 2017 Final

Emirates Lions 17 Crusaders 25

Emirates Lions – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Corne Fourie. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties: Elton Jantjies (1)

Crusaders – Tries: Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Kieran Reid. Conversions: Richie Mounga (2). Penalties: Mounga (1)

Sadly for departing Ackermann, the final did not go the way of the hosts. For the third week in a row, they started too slowly and it was third time unlucky as they were unable to pull off the amazing come from behind victories of their two previous games.  Their first phase play was under pressure, made unforced errors and did not adapt their game to the situation. They were unable to cope with the Crusaders rushed defense and played for too much rugby behind the advantage line.

Flyhalf Elton Jantjies will face further pressure during the Rugby Championship and will need to add a lot more variety to his kicking game to overcome his growing reputation as someone who can be put off his game when targeted on the outside, preventing from getting his line away. The only way he will do this is to use grubbers and short kicks behind the rushed defense to create uncertainty.

Tactically, other than their problems facing a rushed defense, the Lions fell short of a championship winning team. They won a penalty on the Crusaders 22m line within the first five minutes. In a final, you take the three points. They opted for a corner kick and were repelled by one of the best defenses in the competition. On three occasions, the Lions had attacking lineouts on the Crusaders line after winning penalties. Instead of going for a full lineout and taking advantage of what has been a phenomenal driving maul throughout the season, they opted for shortened lineouts. It was simply too easy for the Crusaders to defend against.

The biggest talking point of the game though, was the Kwagga Smith red card. Everyone could see that there were mitigating circumstances to what happened, but the law does not take mitigating circumstances into account. If a player makes contact with an opposition player who is in the air and that player lands on their neck and head, the sanction is a red card. Did it have a material effect on the game? Although the Lions lost to the better team on the day, the answer is yes. Did referee Jaco Peyper and the rest of the officiating team have any alternative? The answer is no.

The Emirates Lions fans were not in raptures over the result but Scott Robertson could not contain himself, breaking into a celebratory dance.

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