Johannesburg - Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes his side will have to “fight to the end” if they are to lift this year’s Super Rugby title.
According to the SuperSport website, Ackermann’s side face off with seven-time champions the Crusaders on Saturday in the final of the tournament and will face a real challenge against the other form team of the competition.
The Lions coach, who is also in his last game at the union, believes his team will face a totally new challenge, and won’t be able to rely on the knowledge from their two clashes in 2016 when it comes this this weekend.
Still, Ackermann forsees a massive battle ahead with the best New Zealand side in the competition.
“Like I said in the week regarding us and the Hurricanes, both sides have changed, both sides have probably developed a little more in certain areas. They are definitely a quality side, they have shown it this whole season and their background and history is all quality,” Ackermann said.
“It will boil down to 80 minutes. Again to go back to last year and to refer back to anything will not help us. We have to reset, we haven’t achieved anything yet, we haven’t got a trophy or anything. The challenge for us now is to train well, to obviously enjoy the victory but to start again, reset and know that here is a side that will also fight until the end, who also wants the title.”
Ackermann acknowledged that the earlier start helped them against the Hurricanes and this week’s 4pm kickoff might take that edge off the altitude a bit.
Still, he knows that his team can’t afford a start like they had against the Hurricanes and will need to adapt quicker if they are to meet the expectations of the capacity 62 000 crowd on the day.
“The players will probably give you feedback on how they felt. We felt towards the end of the first half they were more tired than us, so that’s why I’d love to play 1pm, but anyhow. The reality is that they had the linespeed, but the players were so direct that at some stage they couldn’t keep up, they couldn’t get off the line because we were in their faces,” he said.
“The alteration came in the second half. Again, we can only play what is in front of us, we must be able to adapt, and last year we did it well until the final, and obviously there was extreme weather conditions but again we can analyse the Crusaders as much as we want to, we know they are going to be physical, we know they are going to be in our faces defensively.
“It is for us to be in their faces and to adapt if your plan doesn’t work. We started like a house on fire, and our plan worked perfectly, and then it was two moments that gave us a body blow and we had to recover from those tries they scored. The players showed a lot of composure”
The full house signs and the hype in the New Zealand media trying to pressurise Jaco Peyper ahead of the game has already shown how high the stakes are at the moment.
The Lions will need to disregard the hype and emotion and “fight to the end” if they are to give Ackermann the sendoff he deserves.