Emotional Ackermann braces for 'unreal' farewell
Lloyd Burnard - Ellis Park
Johannesburg - For much of Saturday's Super Rugby semi-final at Ellis Park, it seemed that coach Johan Ackermann would not have the dream farewell he has dreamed of for so long.
22-3 down against the Hurricanes, missing tackles and making errors, the Lions looked dead and buried before an almost miraculous comeback saw them claim a stunning 44-29 victory that will be remembered for years to come.
The reward is a home final against the Crusaders at Ellis Park next weekend.
Captain Jaco Kriel said after the match that he could not remember ever being part of such a special comeback, while Ackermann will now have the farewell he has always hoped for.
The coach, who has transformed the Lions from tournament whipping boys to finalists two years running, is on his way to the English Premiership and Gloucestershire at the end of the season.
But, before then, he has an opportunity next weekend to bow out a champion.
"It's amazing. I'm grateful ... it's still unreal," Ackermann's first words were at his post-match press conference.
"That's what I always hoped for, that the day I finished here would be in front of our home fans and on our own field.
"I'm so humbled. This journey has been so special over the last few years with a special bunch of men and they just proved it today. I just want to thank my players."
Ackermann also had a special word for the Ellis Park crowd, who he said lifted the Lions when they were down.
"When the tries came we could feel the energy," he said of the vocal, passionate crowd.
"It was just an amazing day today."
Kriel was also full of praise for his players.
"This is the best feeling I have felt in a long time," he said.
"To see character come out like that from a bunch of guys that care for each other ... I don't think I can explain the feeling of being on the field and being inspired by your own players like I was today."
Next Saturday's final will kick-off at 16:00.