British & Irish Lions

Ackermann to be England's next Vunipola?

Ruan Ackermann (Getty Images)
Ruan Ackermann (Getty Images)

There has seldom been that much song and dance about the likelihood of Pretoria-born Ruan Ackermann turning out in an England jersey - a moderate surprise to me.

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But that prospect drew considerably closer to fruition when his father, departing Gloucester head coach and former Springbok lock hard man Johan, revealed a few days ago that while he was taking up new opportunities in Japan, Ruan was staying put at the Premiership club and keen to have the option of representing last year's World Cup runners-up: he qualifies in some two months.

It should not be too long, under those circumstances, for ever-alert Eddie Jones to draw the bruising, versatile young forward into - or significantly closer to, at very least - England's extended squad.

On Ackermann's side is that he is only 24, so probably still some way short of his peak potential even after quitting the Lions' scene back in his land of birth after the 2017 campaign.

Perhaps not destined to ever be the speediest or most creative of loosies, I have always regarded Ackermann junior, not unlike his dad, as a bit of a "meneer" at close quarters in rugby: his qualities are especially tailor-made for the more grinding, often grim-weather needs of the UK/European game.

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Increasing his attractiveness as a future England resource is that he is as much at home as a blindside flanker as he is at No 8, and also more than capable of slotting into the second row with his 110kg-plus frame.

It is true the RWC 2019 losing finalists to the Springboks already have a decent cupboard of emerging loose forwards: their flanks who began the RWC showpiece game, for example, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry, are only 23 and 21 respectively.

No 8 wrecking ball Billy Vunipola, too, seems to have been around forever but is still only 27.

Yet he is not averse to injury, and if Jones is ever seeking a like-for-like replacement for the Sydney-born powerhouse, especially on a heavy surface, someone like Ackermann would be far from a daft choice as stand-in, don't you think?

He may sacrifice a fair few kilos to Vunipola on the scale, but almost everyone does, and the SA-born player’s superior height and natural ability in the department makes him a better lineout option.

Like the incumbent, Ackermann seldom takes a step backward when things turn tetchy, either ...

*Rob Houwing is Sport24's chief writer. Follow him on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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