Full Johan Ackermann interview following Wasps win

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COVENTRY, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23: Johan Ackermann of Gloucester during the Aviva Premiership match between Wasps and Gloucester Rugby at The Ricoh Arena on December 23, 2017 in Coventry, England. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

Following his side’s scrappy win over Wasps Johan Ackermann gave injury updates, his thoughts on the game and how he feels the side will handle pressure better. Robert Rees brings you the full Johan Ackermann interview. 

Gloucester’s strong belief brought them through

Speaking on the hard fought win at Kingsholm Johan Ackermann said, ”I think we learned last season that it was those one or two point games that we didn’t manage to win. Today we were 11 points down and the guys showed a lot of character and belief and got out of the hole, scored some points and that swung the momentum back to us.”

Ackermann added, ”The belief is there and the training is going well and the guys realise if we work hard for each other and we keep that patience we can break down defence. It won’t always go your way and you have to be able to work hard and that’s what we work in training.

”The players start feeding off each other in anticipation and hopefully going forwards it’ll get better and better.”

Fresh injury worries

Ackermann broke the news that Owen Williams’ season would be over following a knee injury and gave updates on both Jason Woodward and Ollie Thorley.

”This week we were unlucky losing Owen Williams and James Hanson. We were privileged to select the same starting XV for four or five weeks in a row and all those things help the cohesion and belief and that’s the big difference this season.

”It wasn’t a good week for us on the injury front for us with Jason [Woodward] coming off and Ollie [Thorley] had a knock, along with the two in the week but hopefully we’ll get a fifteen out there going forward that have the same belief and momentum.”

Speaking on how long both Woodward and Thorley could be out for he added, ”It’s too early to say at the moment but hopefully Thorley is just a knock on the knee, but we thought that about Owen [Williams] and he’s out for the season.

”Jason looked like he did his calf, but I don’t want to speculate on the extent of it and hopefully it’s not too serious as there’s not a lot of time left for players to come back”.

Managing a week off

Gloucester now face another week on the sidelines following their elimination from the Champions Cup.

Ackermann explaining the task ahead of them said, ”The next challenge is that because we’re out of Eurovision now we have a week off and that means there’s another week that we can’t take this momentum forward. You have to stop and build up again to the match. It’s challenging now to manage these last few weeks without playing.

”It’s nice to have a break, but if you want to carry momentum you’d like to keep it.”

Play-offs not on the mind

Despite the obvious lure of looking ahead to the end of season play-offs Johan Ackerman  insists they’re taking it game by game and will re-focus after the  down week.

”They are getting closer but there’s still 25 points available so anything can happen. We’re far from safe and we have to work very hard still. We’re not going to think about that and will focus on the job ahead.

”The only positive for me is that it’s in our own destiny. We’re not sitting there hoping someone loses. We decide how far we go by the standard we play.”

Dreyer and Rapava-Ruskin return

The two returning props made a huge impact off the bench and pleased Ackermann in how they continued the strong forward display. Saying, ”It was good for us, it shows we can stay competitive. Credit to them, they were out long term and it’s a big challenge to come back in and set a certain platform for yourself so hopefully they’ll get better.

”Maybe put some pressure on the other guys and we can start rotating. It’s nice to have your best players available and hopefully we’ll have everybody for the remainder of the season.

”They fought it well in the scrums when Franco [Mostert] had the yellow card and when we were back to full compliment they won that penalty that was crucial to just give us the opportunity to get back in the strike-zone and take the game away.”

Forcing the game too much

All too often Gloucester’s attacks came to an end with handling errors and the Head Coach felt they were just forcing it at times. He said: ”We debated and thought about whether it was the fact that we had a week off as to why we were just that little bit off our game in the first 20 minutes, but we were so brilliant at some stages and so poor at others.

”We just lost the ball in one phase, the scrum on the right hand side and Ben [Morgan]  passed it to nobody and we spilled the ball. We left plenty of opportunities out there with handling errors specifically.

”We’ll keep working on it and we saw what we can do with ball in hand and that’s the challenge for us, to do it consistently. The whole accuracy wasn’t there and only after the first 20 did we start cutting out those errors.”

Handling the pressure better than previous years

Gloucester are bidding to win their first Premiership title. They’ve blown games and struggled with pressure in years gone by, but Ackermann feels they are better placed to deal with it this season.

Saying, ”We try to be a side that plays at a certain standard and not to worry about the future. We train creatively so the players can feel some pressure but it is different as there’s no contact and you’re not as tired as you are in a game.

”The reality is that the scenario changes a bit. I trust that the likes of Jaco Kriel, Mostert and Willi Heinz have experienced pressure games/play-off games and rely on guys like that to soak up the pressure and do the right things at the right times.”

This year’s squad is different to that of last season

Despite many of the squad being the same faces that clawed their way to a Challenge Cup final last season Ackermann feels they’re better placed.

Adding, ”There is a difference but it comes with time, there’s no quick fix to playing with each other and getting used to each other. That belief coming back and in each other and then on the day just a few things have to go your way.

”We saw that today, we didn’t control the ball well and we managed to change that and think about the scrum penalty just before half time. We spoke about it and managed to fix it on field.

”That’s where the growth of the team is. If we can make a mistake, get over it and fix it in a game then hopefully we can growing in that area.”

Choosing a consistent squad

Only having to make one change ahead of this weekend’s match enabled Gloucester to pull through some consistency.

Ackermann explaining just how important that is said, ”It’s huge. If you get consistency in your selection, it’s tough on players who aren’t selected, but I do like to rotate. It creates a bit of unity and the last few weeks we’ve had that luxury to pick the starting XV the same every week.”

Gloucester will next be at Kingsholm when they take on Bath in the West Country derby on Saturday 13th April.

“Main photo credit”

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