Lions looking thinner as key moves loom
Lions’ hooker Akker Van der Merwe joins Sharks; Ackermann Jnr to UK?
Is the project that coach Johan Ackermann undertook over the past four seasons at the Lions starting to unravel now that he is moving on to Gloucester in England’s Premier League?
The Sharks have confirmed that Lions’ hooker Akker van der Merwe will join them, while unconfirmed reports say that loose forward Ruan Ackermann will join his father in England.
Van der Merwe‚ 26‚ will join the Durban team on a two-year deal from this week. He was the Lions’ second-choice hooker and was earlier expected to play a pivotal role in their Currie Cup campaign with first-choice Malcolm Marx on Springbok duty.
Losing Ackermann Jnr would also be a blow to squad depth as he has been an integral part of the Lions’ last two Super Rugby campaigns, in which they have reached the final in consecutive seasons.
The Lions fell short in Super Rugby’s showpiece at the weekend‚ losing 25-17 to the Crusaders at Ellis Park.
After being reduced to 14 men late in the first half when flank Kwagga Smith was red-carded‚ the Lions battled manfully until the end‚ but the Crusaders won their eighth title and first in nine years.
In July, Lions’ CE Rudolf Straeuli moved to calm reports of player losses in the post-Ackermann era by producing a long list of players who had committed their immediate futures to the union.
The list did not specify length of contracts and Straeuli declined to comment about the details of the contracts as he was still finalising some of them.
Ackermann Jnr was one of the players on the list.
Johan Ackermann’s assistant, Swys de Bruin, was appointed as his successor on July 11‚ so at least there is continuity on that front, while the Golden Lions Rugby Union has also improved its junior structures.
The under-18 Craven Week team featured in the last two "finals" at the national tournament, while the under-19 and under-21 teams won national championships in 2016.
Ackermann has laid strong foundations at senior level, and a few player losses should not be enough to break down the structure he has built.
"To think where we were in 2014 after a lot of guys left and we got together as a new group‚ to where we are now‚ is special‚" Ackermann said after Saturday’s Super Rugby final.
"Courtnall Skosan‚ Robbie Coetzee‚ Franco Mostert‚ Warwick Tecklenburg‚ Schalk van der Merwe‚ Willie Britz and others got on to the plane for the first time on tour and 24 of the 26 guys were going to Australasia for the first time.
"That growth of the team — now we’ve got 11 or 12 Springboks — is a highlight for me because we all coach to get the players to the highest position they can be."