The Currie Cup kicks off this weekend, with last year’s runners-up, the Lions, taking on the 2014 whipping boys, the EP Kings, in Port Elizabeth tomorrow.
Ackermann’s team haven’t played a competitive match since their final round Super Rugby encounter with the Stormers on June 6 so the Lions boss is anticipating a bit of a rusty start.
“We took off a full three weeks after Super Rugby so the players had a proper amount of time to recover. But for the last four to five weeks we’ve been working hard, but there are always going to be questions at the start of a new competition,” said Ackermann yesterday.
“I don’t know where we’re going to be in the early rounds. Questions you ask yourself are ‘how fit are we?’ and ‘are all our plans in place?’. ‘Did we do enough or didn’t we?”
The other challenge facing one of Super Rugby’s surprise packages is player depth. There is uncertainty around Warren Whiteley’s availability going forward as he might be called up for World Cup duty, while Lionel Mapoe and Elton Jantjies will play in Japan if they don’t make the World Cup squad and so, too, Warwick Tecklenburg.
Front row forwards Armand and Schalk van der Merwe are playing in France, while Corné Fourie and Faf de Klerk are back at the Pumas. Loan players Robert Kruger and Dillon Smit have also returned to their home union, the Leopards, while Andries Coetzee and Derick Minnie are injured.
Much of the focus in the build-up to the Lions’ opener has been on the new-look loose-trio. Jaco Kriel will captain the side, but he’ll no longer have Whiteley and Tecklenburg around him, but rather rookie No8 Ruaan Lerm and SA Sevens star Kwagga Smith.
“We know what we have in Warren and Warrick so this is a great opportunity for us to look at our depth. It’s great that Kwagga and Lerm and Steph (de Wit, on the bench) now get a chance. We know they have the ability and if they come through for us in the next few weeks it’ll be great for our depth going into next season.
“It’s likely though we’ll take a week or two to pick up momentum again; it’s just the way it is. In Super Rugby we had a settled squad, but that’s not the case now. Just look at Ross Cronje and Marnitz Boshoff at nine and 10 ... they’ve been in our group for three years now, but they didn’t play a lot in Super Rugby. And, at lock, we could also be challenged with guys like MB Lusaseni, Lourens Erasmus and Fabian Booysen having not played a lot for us this year.”
The Lions, though, should still be favourites in Port Elizabeth although Ackermann warns that the team of Brent Janse van Rensburg should not be written off. “They’re a bit of an unknown factor. We might know some of their players, but they’ve got a new coach, so I don’t quite know what to expect. We’re simply going out there to get up to standard as quickly as possible.”
Lions: Ruan Combrinck, Courtnall Skosan, Harold Vorster, Howard Mnisi, Anthony Volmink, Marnitz Boshoff, Ross Cronje, Ruaan Lerm, Kwagga Smith, Jaco Kriel (capt), Martin Muller, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Ruan Dreyer, MB Lusaseni, Steph de Wit, Lohan Jacobs, Stokkies Hanekom, Jaco van der Walt
EP Kings: Scott van Breda, Sylvian Mahuza, JP du Plessis, Tim Whitehead, Luther Obi, George Whitehead, Enrico Acker, Tim Agaba, Stefan Willemse, Luke Watson (capt), Cornell Hess, Steven Sykes, Tom Botha, Martin Ferreira, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Michael van Vuuren, Simon Kerrod, Jacques Engelbrecht, Paul Schoeman, Kevin Luiters, Karlo Aspeling, Siyanda Grey - The Star
Original source: Ackermann worried about rust