The Lions beat the Sunwolves and Chiefs and lost to the Highlanders, but remain in a very strong position in their conference.
“I’m proud of the players, not just the results on tour, but the way they also conducted themselves off the field. It was a lot of travelling and the players’ attitude was exceptional, they always had a smile on their faces,” said Ackermann, referring to the 50 hours he and his squad spent flying across 11 time zones for the three matches.
“The Highlanders scored a few lucky tries, but then we also weren’t quite as mentally switched on as we should have been.”
Build-up to the Cheetahs
The Lions only arrived back in Joburg on Monday and didn’t train until Wednesday. It’s certainly been a trying week.
“Tuesday was a recovery day and Wednesday was about getting certain match details done and today (yesterday) it’s raining heavily,” said Ackermann.
“We’ve, however, spent three weeks together and there’s really not much physically we can add to our game, so it’s been more about freshening up and being hungry and ready to play this week. Maybe all that’s happened this week is a blessing in disguise … being mentally ready is worth more than what you put in on the field.
“I hope the players have enough in the tank to give it their everything for 80 more minutes. We’ve got a bye next week and the players will then get some time off.”
Having played three away matches and having just one more outside of South Africa, against the Jaguares at the end of the competition, the Lions have 11 games left at home.
“It’s a great position to be in,” said Ackermann. “But we must capitalise on the situation … it’s in our hands.
“We love to play here at home at a venue where we try to make our supporters proud. We know Ellis Park is a difficult place to come to and we want to keep it that way. We’re focusing on the next job and that’s the Cheetahs this weekend.”
Dylan Smith, Malcolm Marx and Julian Redelinghuys return to the front row, 20-year-old Ruan Ackermann takes the place of the suspended Warwick Tecklenburg, Lionel Mapoe returns to the midfield and Andries Coetzee is back at fullback. Lock Lourens Erasmus and loose forward Cyle Brink should get their first taste of the action this year playing off the bench.
“Ruan has worked very hard and grabbed his chance. I don’t want to compare him to Warwick … they both have their strengths and I want Ruan to go out there and just play his game,” said Ackermann. “Yes, he’ll be under a bit of pressure, mainly because of the media, and it will always be there as long as I am the coach.
“Let’s not forget that Eben Etzebeth and Frans Steyn were playing for the Boks at 20 … life is about opportunities and grabbing them when they’re available.”
Coach Franco Smith has made several changes to the lineup, the most notable the inclusion of Lood de Jager in the second row.
Clayton Blommetjies is also back in favour, while the entire front row will be fresh after playing off the bench last week – their scrum battle with the Lions’ front three should be hugely entertaining.
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Howard Mnisi, Courtnal Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley, Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith. Bench: Armand van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, Lourens Erasmus, Cyle Brink, Dillon Smit, Jaco van der Walt, Rohan Janse van Rensburg
Cheetahs: Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen, Francois Venter, William Small-Smith, Raymond Rhule, Niel Marais, Shaun Venter, Henco Venter, Uzair Cassiem, Paul Schoeman, Lood de Jager, Carl Wagner, Maks van Dyk, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marais. Bench: Jacques du Toit, Ox Nche, Johan Coetzee, Francois Uys, Hilton Lobberts, Boom Prinsloo, Tian Meyer, Fred Zeilinga
Kickoff: 5pm - Cape Times
Original source: Lions coach has plenty to smile about