Crusaders coach's final words for Ackermann
Lloyd Burnard - Johannesburg
Johannesburg - Whichever way Saturday's Super Rugby final went, history was going to be made.
The Lions were eyeing their first title (we don't count 1993) while the Crusaders were looking to become the first team to win a final having traveled across the Indian ocean.
Unfortunately for the Lions and coach Johan Ackermann, there had to be a loser.
As the outgoing 47-year-old said after the match: "That's sport."
Ackermann's 14-man Lions gave their all in the last 25 minutes, scoring two tries to threaten another miracle comeback, but in the end they ran out of time and were ousted 25-17.
It was Ackermann's final game in charge of the franchise before he leaves for Gloucester in the English Premiership, and it was an understandably emotional farewell for him.
The Lions, though, had been adamant all week that they would not be defined by one match.
While Crusaders coach Scott Robertson breakdanced in celebration, Ackermann was left to contemplate what might have been.
The rivalry may have been fierce and the competition desperate, but these sides have clearly earned each other's respect along the way.
"He can be really proud of what he’s achieved," Robertson said of Ackermann after the match.
"I think the positive feeling that’s come out of the Lions is that you don’t get 63 000 people turning up if they don’t see that the team cares.
"They truly care about each other. It was hugely respectful to stay afterwards and clap us off after the game.
"He’s a wonderful coach and everyone knows he’s a good man. They play for him as a team.
"We really feel for them. We were two desperate teams out there and unfortunately for them we’re the ones that came out on top."
Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock was equally impressed with the Lions culture.
"Seeing them stay after the game and pick up water bottles and training gear tells you everything ... they're a humble side," he said.
For Ackermann, it was a tough one to take, but he was full of praise for the Crusaders.
"They’ve played good rugby the whole year and they were consistent," he said.
"They showed it last week (in the semi-final against the Chiefs) in how they defended and credit to them.
"They did a lot of homework and they contested well … one can’t take anything away from them.
"They’re a quality side and you could see how calm they were when we got closer and they calmed everything down. They’re deserving champions."
Ackermann will leave for Gloucester on Wednesday.
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