While defeat is never nice, the Lions’ narrow loss to the Crusaders two weeks ago necessitated a change of plan for last week’s game against the Sharks and the results were there for all to see: the Lions tweaked their game, didn’t only back their pace and passing skills, but laid a solid platform in the set-pieces, put more boot to ball and won comfortably.
It is those lessons the Lions will take into the Super Rugby match tomorrow.
And, to further boost the Lions’ chances of knocking over one of the most sound defensive sides in the competition Ackermann has retained the same 23 men who did the business in Durban.
“We learnt valuable lessons against the Crusaders - maybe that we should play less sometimes, be more clever with how we go about our business and make good decisions - that’s what we did against the Sharks,” said Ackermann yesterday.
“The players realised they conceded a few too many soft tries against the Crusaders and they stepped up in that area last week; their attitude in defence was very good.
“The players took stock and they accepted that you can’t miss so many tackles at this level of the game.
“They fixed the problem, but the challenge now is for them to do it again this weekend against quality players who’ll expose them if they’re not on top of their game.”
Ackermann added the fact he has picked the same match-day 23 for the first time this year will be to his side’s advantage. “There’s continuity and that’s always important, while the momentum will hopefully carry over from last week.”
The Stormers though will pose many more challenges for the Lions than the Sharks did a week ago, especially because they’re such a good defensive side, place a high premium on the set-pieces, while out wide they have genuine match-winners. Ackermann said there were few weaknesses in Robbie Fleck’s outfit.
“They’ve always been good defensively, their structures are great, but under Robbie they’ve added something to their game - they play more with ball-in-hand and they take a few more risks. They’ve got players with real X-factor - so the fact they attack more makes them so much more difficult to play against,” said Ackermann.
While aware of the importance of the game - both teams will certainly want to keep a good thing going, especially after registering wins last weekend - the Lions boss played down the opposition somewhat. “There’s always an edge to these derbies, they’re always special, but we know that with the Hurricanes, Blues and Jaguares visiting here soon this is really just another hurdle we have to get over if we’re to achieve our goals.”
It’s a big hurdle though, especially when one considers the quality of players sitting on the Stormers bench. It’s something Ackermann has taken notice of. “They have an incredible bench - to think Frans Malherbe is sitting there when he would otherwise walk into any team in the world. And, Damien de Allende is sure to come on and look to make a difference.”
The players on the Lions’ bench though have also been impressive this season and expect Armand van der Merwe, Cyle Brink and Faf de Klerk in particular to make a big impact.
Kick-off tomorrow is 7.15pm.
Lions STARTING XV: Jaco van der Walt, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley (capt), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith; Replacements: Armand van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, Ruan Ackermann, Cyle Brink, Faf de Klerk, Howard Mnisi, Andries Coetzee
Stormers STARTING XV: Cheslin Kolbe, Kobus van Wyk, Johnny Kotze, Juan de Jongh (capt), Leolin Zas, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Nic Groom, Schalk Burger, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Nizaam Carr, Pieter-Steph du Toit, JD Schickerling, Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements: Mike Willemse, Oli Kebble, Frans Malherbe, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Louis Schreuder, Damian de Allende, Huw Jones - The Star
Original source: Lions ready to tackle Stormers