GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 14: Johan Ackermann, Head Coach of Gloucester Rugby looks on prior to the Heineken Champions Cup match between Gloucester Rugby and Castres Olympique at Kingsholm Stadium on October 14, 2018 in Gloucester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Gloucester face Worcester at Kingsholm in their last Gallagher Premiership tie before they return to Champions Cup action this weekend. Johan Ackermann is braced for a physical challenge, as Worcester are in a good vein of form.

Robert Rees spoke to Johan Ackermann, and asked him abut the current squad, upcoming matches, and much more. Read the full interview below. 

Robert Rees, “Last week a boy was allowed on to the Gloucester bus with his family, to take a picture with Danny Cipriani (as he was a big fan). Tell us about it.”

Johan Ackermann: “We do treasure our supporters who go a long way to support us and as we were going to the bus. There were a lot of supporters waiting for photographs with the players and eventually everyone was on the bus. As we were sitting there, I saw two adults in Exeter shirts and a small kid and the guy was standing there looking like he wanted to speak. He asked if Danny was on the bus.

I said yes, we were almost leaving, but his son was a huge fan of Danny. I know that if you’ve played the game; your body is going to be tired and we didn’t want Danny to squeeze past everyone to get off the bus. So it was easier to get the boy up the bus, and they could take a picture of him.

We’re all for families and especially care that a youngster will treasure moments like that. Credit to the players, they opened their arms to him.

“Danny has always got time for his supporters.”

How far ahead are those top two teams in the league and what do Gloucester need to do to get there?

Yes, they’re ahead and they have shown that. We can argue about our injury list, but they’ve got a lot of quality who didn’t play. They’re very composed and they believe in what they do and they can do it for 80 minutes.

We had them under pressure at 6-0. We had a penalty advantage in our half from a scrum and then tried to play it and we lost the ball. The ref went back to the penalty and we missed the kick, it could have been nine.

They got a penalty advantage and they cross field kicked it, Cordero caught it and it ended with a try. We had a lot of entries into their 22 and into their half, but we didn’t finish the majority of them. That’s the difference, the Saracens and Exeter may only get five chances, but they’ll punish you. They didn’t panic when we broke the line and eventually got the intercept.

They’re very calm under pressure and you have to work very hard for your points and that’s where we have to improve. We’ve improved as they had opportunities where they tried to maul us and they tried to score under the posts with their pick and go game and we kept them out.

Those crucial moments is where they are just a little bit better than the rest of us.

Considering how good they are and how composed they are and I know you want to win every game, but, are there some parts of you that say 23-6 could be acceptable?

No, it can’t be acceptable. The part that can be acceptable is that we went up, tried hard and never gave up. The effort was there and I’d rather lose that way rather than a lack of effort and energy.

We can’t be satisfied by losing and letting a team come out and outplay and outsmart us/ are better although, the two tries they scored were quite soft. Credit to them how they finished them, but suddenly it’s 14 points back.

It was much closer than the score suggests.

What have you said on those two tries?

Obviously, we spoke to the team about what we could have cone better when Ollie Thorley had that line break and to show patience when we had the ball. Credit to them, they had nothing to lose on that penalty advantage and, we talk about inches. If he kicks it two metres short, then Ollie catches it and if he kicks it too long it goes into touch. He put it there perfectly.

Jonny Bell has looked at it and we’ll make a few defensive adjustments to counter that in the future. You just have to say it was a brilliant try.

What’s the latest on Franco Mostert?

Franco joined up with us, he’s in Gloucester. He has met the squad and we’re excited to have him here. He’s been through a long Super Rugby and test series back home with The Rugby Championship and now the autumn internationals so we’ll have to manage him.

We’re confident that he’s got a legal contract with us and that World Rugby will soon give us clearance to register him and get him out on the field.

Has the situation been distracting for you?

No, not at all. It would have been a different scenario if he’d been here for a month or two just training and couldn’t play, but since he’s just joined up with us, the boys haven’t thought him until he was here.

Crusaders and Lions - 2018 Super Season full of highlights
Captain Franco Mostert of the Lions passes under pressure during the Super Rugby match between Emirates Lions and Crusaders at Emirates Airline Park on April 01, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The Lions have fought it very hard if it was the other way around, would you have fought as hard for him?

I’m surprised that they did it as ‘why didn’t they fight for Jaco Kriel, Ruan Dreyer, Faf De Klerk?’ or any other player who has left them in recent seasons. I’m surprised more as every player is free will to choose where they want to go.

If I sign a contract that ends on a certain date and time, then surely I can make a decision on my future.

Yes, you [Lions administration] would fight it; you’d get the player in and ask him if it’s the right move. See if there’s a better deal you can make to them or, see if we can give your wife flowers, but, if the player has made a decision then I’m not going to run to other authorities to help me if the player has made the decision.

You said World Rugby clearance is all your waiting for on Mostert, would you see any problems with that?

No, we can just hope. They know the urgency of it, we don’t want to keep a player who can’t work and also that we’re keen to get him involved. So hopefully some time in the near future it can resolve itself. It’s an ongoing thing that everyone is involved with and hopefully common sense will prevail.

I’m not certain on the legality of it and who is representing who and where it’s going to be. I just know the case is being put to World Rugby to make the decision.

Looking forward to this weekend, Worcester are a different proposition to Exeter, but what can you take from the last game through to the Warriors game?

The good thing about the game was that it was one of the first games where the conditions were of such that we could have managed it better. So that was a good rehearsal if the conditions are similar to that.

Barring a few lineouts and scrums at the end we felt our set piece was good and defensively we spoke about those two tries, but it’s not often you stop Exeter from scoring tries. They’ve got a bonus point in most of their games. We’re proud of how our guys fronted up.

“Worcester are going to be a massive challenge, as they’re well coached and can test you on all fronts.”

Worcester are good up front and don’t lose by much, but this Gloucester side can put teams away at home. Is it going to be tougher than Leicester?

Defensively they’re very strong and they’ve got big forwards and quite an explosive backline. It’s going to be a big challenge and we’ve made Kingsholm a really tough place to come to. Last season we didn’t play our best game against them, it was a big fight and we expect nothing less from them this week.

They haven’t had a game where they’ve got hammered because of the quality of the team and the fight they put up in every game. They’ll take confidence with results from the weekend and it’s only up the road so it’s not a long travel which can be a factor.

Where else do their biggest threats come from?

I know Francois Hougaard quite well and he is a world class player. You look at their 12, he made a number of turnovers this weekend. They’ve got two brilliant wingers so their threats are definitely on the edges as well and through their backline, but as we mentioned their pack is one of the best packs and defensively I think they’re the second best team in terms of not allowing points whilst on their tryline.

Is there one eye looking forward at the Champions Cup?

We just want to stay in the hunt in the Premiership and it was a bit of an eye-opener for us at the weekend that we couldn’t back our performance of Leicester against the finalists. So we’ve put a massive focus on fixing that side. We’ll get through this game and we’ll respect Worcester and what they bring.

We’ll get through this game, and then get back to Exeter. We seriously haven’t looked beyond this weekend.

Good news within the academy system, getting another player into the England U20s squad, Aaron Hinkley has been involved in the first team the last few weeks, is he someone you may need this weekend?

He is free to go at this moment because we have Jake Polledri back from international duties, and Jaco Kriel has been cleared to train with us and play this weekend if selected. So suddenly we’ve got two back-rowers that weren’t available last week. So that helps to relieve some of that pressure.

I was excited with Aaron and how he trained during the week. He only had a few minutes, but he brought a lot of energy and we wanted to put him on with ten minutes to go, but there was a long phase [around two or three minutes] before the opportunity came.

We wanted to see more of him, but looking at his previous two games where he played in the other competitions [Premiership Cup] he was quite good in those games. As long as he stays patient, he’ll get his opportunity.

You talk about the injury to Jaco, is there no concern with him being out for such a long time?

It was on his knee, the shoulder was perfect after the three games he played. The knee reacted well to treatment on the weekend, and I think we made the right choice on not playing him at the weekend.

He could have had a worse reaction, but Monday and today [Tuesday] he came through all the training good.

Do you think you’ll have any players back this weekend that weren’t available last week?

James Hanson is tracking well, so if he gets his contact assessment on Thursday, maybe even waiting till Friday then, if he gets through that with his ribs then we can select him.

Other than that, it’s Jake and Jaco but no, all the other guys who played on the weekend are available.

Mark Atkinson, is his injury short term?

It’s going to be a few weeks as he’s got a hamstring injury quite high up, almost where the ligament is attached. It’s quite a difficult place to treat, but it’s going to be a couple of weeks to heal up properly.

In recent weeks you’ve started games really well, but dipped away in the latter stages. How much of a concern is that for you?

It’s only a concern if we totally collapse. In the first part of the season, it was the other way around – if you can remember Bristol, we were way down at halftime and had to play better after that. Against Wasps, we started playing better in the first half and Leicester was the same – I don’t think it’s a concern at the moment.

The reality is there are going to be momentum swings in the game. There will be times where sides come out firing for that first 10-20 minutes. That’s where we have to manage the game better, and not give away easy points.

We have to keep our urgency and our way of playing, we can just keep challenging the players there.

Dropping down to fourth over the weekend, how important is a win over Worcester (in staying in the top four) heading into Christmas?

Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann on February 17, 2018 in Worcester, England. (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

It’s going to be crucial. There’s a lot of games post this one to still control our own destiny, but, to get us back with a bit of momentum and confidence after that, it would be nice to get the points. They’re going to be desperate to get points, the same with us.

The reality with us changing positions is that, up until the final game against Saracens, we were candidates to get into the top four. Because we lost to Bath and Saracens, we dropped to seventh.

It looks like this season will be the same – if you win, you gain places and if you lose then you drop places – we’ll just have to keep in touch with the teams above us.

Is the approach to this game similar to that of Leicester, where a win for either side could push them further up?

“For sure. The points are definitely going to make a difference for either of us.”

It starts with us and our way of playing, decision making and control of the game. We’ve spoken about the momentum swings and can we handle them better. We looked at the Exeter game and saw where we missed those opportunities and it’s just hoped that we do it better.

How is Jaco Visagie settling in?

We’ve thrown him in the deep end with only a few training sessions before the game. Credit to him, he played really well in the minutes he had. There were one or two lineouts that we could expect if you’ve only had three or four sessions.

You want to make a point by proving yourself and bringing energy. I can see the players enjoy the energy he brings and this week he’ll know the club a bit better and know the calls better.

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Gloucester Rugby v Worcester – Saturday, December 1. 3:00pm

Last Word on Rugby thank Gloucester Rugby, and the Gallagher Premiership media management, for the opportunity to interview Johan Ackermann.

Follow Robert Rees for more Premiership Rugby coverage, on LWOR.

 

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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