Looking ahead to Northampton Saints at the weekend Johan Ackermann discussed how important Danny Cipriani’s three-year extension was for the club, his England hopes, Northampton’s threats and how he’s built a culture at the club. Robert Rees brings you a full Johan Ackermann interview.
Cipriani signing gives Gloucester platform to build from
Re-signing Danny Cipriani for a further three years allows Gloucester and Johan Ackermann to build a team around their pivotal man with the head coach saying, “It ends the speculation and talk of where he wants to be and the escape [clauses].
“When players want to stay at a club it’s good for us as they enjoy the environment and the club, and they feel it’s a place where they want to extend their career.
“It’s very good work from David [Humphreys] and the management to make it work.
“Danny’s been around the block, been at a few clubs and probably had several options available so for a player of his quality to decide to still be involved in his career is credit to how the players embraced him and the environment we’ve got that he wants to be here.
“It’s a good sign if international quality players want to stay at the club.”
Owen Williams still part of the plans at Kingsholm
Looking ahead Ackermann still believes he has the right fly halves with Cipriani, Williams and Lloyd Evans all with the club.
He said, “We always planned to have two or three fly halves in the squad. That’s why I said earlier when the rumours came out he’s signed up for next year and know we know he’s signed up even further. We can tick that box.
“We’ve got Owen Williams available and Lloyd Evans is there.
Cipriani can aid Evans’ development
With two players at either end of their careers it’s important that Cipriani passes on his advice and Ackermann believes this is a great opportunity for it to happen. Saying, “It’s good to know who’s going to be in that 10 role and Danny can start developing Lloyd and helping him.
“Our academy guys can learn a lot from him. Danny’s at the stage of his career where he can be great for our younger players and mentor them.
“Hopefully when he steps away we’d have developed someone who can play with the same qualities. It’s good to know we’re settled in that position for the next few seasons.”
What Ackermann expects from Cipriani in the years to come
Looking at Cipriani’s four remaining years at Gloucester (one year on remaining contract, plus new three-year deal) the South African believes the fly half still has a lot to show.
He explained, “The challenge for every player is to have consistency. That’s all we can ask from Danny is to have that in his performance. I was fortunate to play until 37-years-old, he’s going to be around 33-34 when his contract ends.
“The one thing I can tell him is the young guys will challenge him and he’s not going to get freebies because of his experience.
“There’ll be even more pressure on him to keep performing and not to ease off so I do believe he’s in that age where you can’t buy his experience. His skillset is something only he can do.”
“Selfless team” pleases Ackermann
In an in-depth interview with Gloucester Rugby, Cipriani talked about the club’s culture and called the squad a “selfless team.”
Looking at the culture of Kingsholm, Ackermann said, “I think he’s summed it up 100%. We want to be a team that serves everybody. The teammates next to you are just as important as you, the supporters too and everyone who works at this club.
“Everybody from the cleaners, to grass cutters there is nobody more important than anybody else. That’s what we want, people and player to care for the club and hopefully the environment will keep pushing and creating.”
Ackermann – two years in the job
The 3rd April saw the second anniversary of Johan Ackermann being named as Gloucester Head Coach. Looking back over his time at the club so far he explained, “I said from day one when I arrived, people wanted to see results and change. We all want to see results, but there’s not always a fixed time on that or how long that change will take.
“You come in and try and change a few things and see where you can add value, but it’s credit to the whole group for how the players accepted me and everybody embraced everything.
“I believe we’re moving in the right direction. Are we there yet? Not yet as there’s things we still have to improve on and get better if we want to be up there.
“I’ve told the players it’s not just about the winning and trophies, it’s about how we conduct ourselves, enjoy each other, treat each other and how we grow as men”.
No room for error against Saints
Looking ahead to the weekend’s match, the South African explained just how much was on the line and discussed the pressure all the top teams find themselves under.
He explained to media, “It’s now five matches left and no room for error. There’s pressure on all five of them [Teams in playoff hunt] and we can only control ourselves, but Northampton are playing some good rugby with a good brand under Chris Boyd.
“They’ve got quality players all over and are in form, so it’ll be a massive challenge. We can control our own destiny; we know where we want to go and what we have to do, and we’ll go out there and give it our best.
“It’s good to have momentum, we felt we had that in the last few weeks. The reality is we’ve freshened up nicely, let the players get away from the game mentally and physically and hopefully it’ll do us well going forward.
Injuries hit hard amongst the backline
Talking about his updated injury list the Head Coach said, “Ollie Thorley is 50/50, theoretically he is finished for the season but there’s hope clinically through the surgeon that if he rehabs well and we stay in the competition then we may see him in the last round or the play-offs.
“That’s going to be a weekly thing. On paper it’s a 12-week injury, but we believe and he’s positive that we can get him back in six to eight weeks.
“Jason Woodward is out for around five weeks, again it’s a weekly thing. He’s got a calf tear and they’re quality players we’ve got injured at the moment, but it allows opportunities for us to test other guys.
“Now we really have to rely on the squad to pull us through.
“Tom [Hudson] is cleared, so that’s good news. He is back and available for selection, but Henry Purdy is out for the weekend. He failed his concussion tests, so he has to go through the correct steps, so it puts him out until he passes his markers.
“We’ll be tested in that areas, but we still have Matt Banahan, Charlie Sharples and Tom Marshall, but now it’s time for the young guys to step up again.
” For Tom Seabrook and the academy guys we’ll train and prepare everybody as well as we can and pick the guy who is ready for the job.
“Gerbrandt [Grobler] is out for around two or three weeks as he’s picked up a ligament injury in his ankle. Luckily, it’s not for the rest of the season, but he won’t be considered for this weekend.
Danny Cipriani’s England chances
Looking ahead to the World Cup and summer warm-up tests Ackermann discussed the idea of Cipriani making the England squad saying, “I think the vehicle for any success is the team, not the individual. If Gloucester performs then people must take note of that. If a team plays well, the players must be playing well.
“Age is not going to be a factor, he’ll be able to play for England aged 32-33. It depends on the coach and does he pick the player in form. If Danny keeps showing his qualities, I don’t think there’s an age [limit].
“He’s an athlete, he doesn’t carry major injuries and he’s probably one of the quickest players in the team. Especially off the mark so there’s nothing physically at the moment inhibiting him. It’s how much he can keep the hunger and desire to push himself and keep fit.
“Rugby is a taxing game where you have to perform and be at the top of your game. He knows that by looking after himself during the week, but he’ll be out there [for years to come].”
Talking about England defence coach John Mitchell, Ackermann said, “I haven’t spoken to him about it [Cipriani]. I’ve spoken to him, but it’s more about players they ask about, not my view on certain players. We get guided by the players they’ve identified and then give them the answer they want to know.
“Defensively I think it’s a big work on for Danny sometimes. England are in contact with him and he’ll know exactly what he has to do to get into the squad.”
Adding, “It’s close to the World Cup, if you’ve settled on to a squad for the last two or three years, the time for experiments are done. You want to get settled with your 35-man squad in those warm-up matches and get settled on your plan and strategy.
“Anything can change in the next couple of weeks, if Gloucester play really well this next few weeks and Danny plays at his best then you see with us losing four backs in two weeks, anything can happen, and I believe Danny can win matches for you.
“It’s up to England’s coaching staff to decide whether Danny Cipriani is the player who can change things or are they very defence focused.”
Northampton Saints v Gloucester – Sunday, March 7. Franklin Gardens
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