On only one occasion in the last month did Ackermann keep the same team from one week to the next. That was for the match against the Crusaders and surprise, surprise, the Lions lost. It was their only defeat on tour.
For the other three matches abroad – against the Blues, Rebels and Reds – Ackermann made significant changes to his starting XV, and the Lions won all of them. So much for continuity then ...
While the majority of Super Rugby coaches will have a first choice XV and attempt to play them each week, Ackermann prefers to rotate his players, to keep them fresh and hungry and it appears to be working a treat. The three wins on tour have catapulted the Lions into the top 10 on the points table and they are now serious challengers for the South African Conference.
But while Ackermann and Co have reaped the rewards of their hard work on tour, their challenge now is to continue winning on home soil, when the pressure will be on them and not their opponents. With their first bye still two weeks away – coming after round nine – their matches at Ellis Park against the Bulls and Sharks will test not only the players’ mental and physical strength, but Ackermann’s ability to select the right group of players for the matches.
While keen to settle on a first choice team, Ackermann says now’s not the right time. “The rotation of the players has been working for us so we’ll continue to do it,” he said.
“It was always going to be a big challenge, playing nine games, including an overseas tour, before our first bye. I have faith in and believe in all the players in my group so it’s never a case of weakening the side when I make changes.
“The props and hookers especially can’t play week-in and week-out. You need to keep the players fresh. Some will say it’s not ideal, but it’s working for us. I know that once we’ve had our bye I might have to settle on a preferred XV. Everyone will have had a break, some more than others, and we can look to finish our campaign strongly.”
Only three players have run out in every game for the Lions so far – captain Warren Whiteley, lock Franco Mostert and centre Lionel Mapoe. “They need a break, they’ve virtually played every minute of every game ... so we need to manage them well until our bye. They certainly won’t train that much this week.”
If the Lions beat the Bulls this weekend and other results go their way, Ackermann’s team will be knocking on the door to the top six. If nothing else, the victories abroad will have boosted the confidence in the Lions team and, as we’ve already seen this season, a confident Lions team is a very dangerous animal.
Ackermann will name his team today. The match on Saturday kicks off at 5.05pm. - The Star
Original source: Selection quandary for Ackermann