What the Lions will experience is very different. According to Ackermann the surface at one of the new venues in the expanded 18-team competition is basically made up of soil.
“There’s not really grass on it,” said Ackermann from Tokyo on Thursday. “We’ll have a better idea of what it looks like once we’ve had a run on it tomorrow (Friday), but as long as it doesn’t rain it should be fine.”
No wet weather is expected for the first Super Rugby match on Japanese soil, but the temperature will be fairly low (between 11 and 13 degrees Celsius).
Not only will the opposition be new to the Lions, but many other outside factors have conspired to ensure the Sunwolves will fancy their chances of causing a first-up surprise.
Having flown out of Joburg on Tuesday afternoon and only arrived in Tokyo late Wednesday night and the team given Thursday off to recover, Ackermann’s men will go into the game having had only one meaningful training session the whole week. He says his team will have to put all those matters behind them if they’re to have a chance against an unknown quantity.
“It was a long flight, it’s cold here this time of year and the surface of the field is something we’re not used to… but we must accept it. We’ve got to put that all behind us.”
The good news is four of the starters named in the Lions team on Thursday, Andries Ferreira, Warwick Tecklenburg, Lionel Mapoe and Elton Jantjies have all spent time playing club rugby in Japan.
Jantjies will especially be familiar with the 28 000-seater stadium as he’s run out on many occasions for the NTT Shining Arcs in the Japanese Top League, who play their home games at the venue.
“At least these four guys know what to expect,” said Ackermann. “And, they’re in key positions in our team so that will help, especially because we’re a young team, with no less than three men set to make their debut on Saturday.
“Four guys in our starting team won’t be caught off-sides at least,” he joked, “and they’ll be able to share their experiences of playing Japan, and against Japanese players, with their team-mates.”
Ackermann said he was expecting the Sunwolves to play a high-tempo game. “It’ll be a quick game, and probably be quite loose. We’re going to have to keep up with their pace, but that suits us because we like that style of rugby,” said the coach. “The big thing though is to not fall into the trap of just throwing the ball around. We’re first going to have to maintain our structure and set up our phase play.
“Also, the players are going to have to be mentally and physically switched on … because this is going to be a very interesting and different experience.”
Not surprisingly, Ackermann has picked a very experienced and settled team, with the only real surprise being the selection of Ruan Dreyer ahead of Jacques van Rooyen at loosehead prop, while at loose-forward Warren Whiteley, Tecklenburg and Jaco Kriel should keep the Sunwolves on their toes.
Meanwhile, Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett has included former Springbok tourist, fullback Riaan Viljoen, and Samoa flyhalf, Tusi Pisi, in his team.
Only four players who were part of the Japanese team that beat the Boks at last year’s World Cup, have made the side.
Original source: Lions ready for the unexpected