No free ride for Lions' Boks
Johannesburg - Lions coach Johan Ackermann has warned his Springboks they will need to “reset the clock” and earn their jerseys back, saying there will be no “free ride” for his Springboks in 2017.
The Lions will start this year’s Super Rugby campaign as the South African-favourites after their appearance in the final last season, and will be looking to go one better than they did at the same time last year.
But with a number of his Springboks - including captain Warren Whiteley, flank Jaco Kriel, lock Franco Mostert, flyhalf Elton Jantjies and midfielder Lionel Mapoe - all playing in the Japanese league in the off-season, Ackermann said they will need to prove themselves this season again - and past glories mean little in the team environment.
Luckily for Ackermann the Springboks all returned injury free from their travels, but must now look to re-establish themselves as the leaders in the side.
“Warren and all the other Springbok guys - they know my heart, I only select a guy who performs,” Ackermann told supersport.com.
“If they don’t perform the next step is the bench and after that you are out. So they will have to earn back the jersey, and I trust they will.
“Last year January they weren’t Boks but then again, a year later they are more experienced and have experienced more pressure, even if it is the type of pressure they’ve experienced and they know how to get over that. I do believe they are mentally stronger.
“At the end of the day we play for a purpose and that is to honour God, we are blessed to be healthy and stuff. I know the players will not just play for me, but play for the team and for the privilege that the Lord has blessed us with - healthy bodies and the ability to play this game, the game we love.
“If that is their motivation, then it is good enough for me. Will we make mistakes, we will - regardless of being a Springbok or not, but we will back them and hopefully we will get them where they need to be - at their best.”
While there have been concerns about players playing in Japan and other Super Rugby sides have fallen foul to injuries to their top Boks when they returned last year, Ackermann isn’t worried about the conditioning of his players, many of whom he says are in exceptional condition for the pre-season.
“I believe the positives are that they’ve been with us since 2013/2014 but since we’ve taken over - (assistant coach) Swys de Bruin and myself - they know exactly what our expectation is. They are the leaders in our group - they are the guys who set the culture and they are the guys who decide on certain values - and they live those values,” he added.
“They look after their conditioning and therefore when they slotted in, yes, its cold out there and now here its warm outside. There are one or two of those challenges, but they don’t look out of sorts and they don’t look unconditioned.
“A guy like Jaco Kriel still played an 80 minute game a few weeks ago. So it is just a question for us to manage them. They must get used to one or two things that we have done.
“But like I said, over the years they got more experience, they have the freedom to speak about how they feel and they know they can come and speak to me and tell me this is what I need and it won’t be an influence on the team. If a player needs a day rest somewhere we can manage that.
“Like I said, there is no free ride, there is no way you are selected because you played well last year. You have to obviously reset that and do everything over again this year.”
The Lions face the Stormers in their final pre-season game this Saturday at Newlands.
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