Watch out Japan, here comes Ackermann-De Bruin 2.0

Neil de Bruin (Gallo Images)
Neil de Bruin (Gallo Images)
  • Former Lions coach Johan Ackermann was keen to reunite with Swys de Bruin for his new gig in Japan, but ended up with a decent second prize: De Bruin's son, Neil.
  • Considered one of SA rugby's most gifted young coaches, De Bruin junior was a lower-level skills guru during Ackermann's tenure at Ellis Park before breaking into the senior ranks.
  • Given how Ackermann and Swys de Bruin dovetailed in reviving the franchise, there's excitement that this new partnership could reap similar benefits.
  • Rory Duncan's recruitment is also valuable to Ackermann because he can entrust him with added responsibility should it be required. 

It's no secret that Johan Ackermann wanted to take his trusted right-hand man, Swys de Bruin, with him on his journey to Japan.

De Bruin though declined that invitation in what proved to be the former Lions head coach's only real hiccup before confirming his association with NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes.

In fact, whether it really was much of a setback is debatable as Ackermann gained a worthy alternative prize: De Bruin's son and protege, Neil.

The 34-year-old, who until the opt-out transfer window in May was the Lions' attack and backline coach, is considered one of South African rugby's most gifted minds and might even have a bigger ceiling than his highly accomplished father.

Given how Ackermann and De Bruin senior dovetailed in reviving the franchise, there's excitement that this new partnership could reap similar benefits.

"I'm really excited to work tightly with Neil," Ackermann told Sport24.

"We think the same about the game. One of the things that are really appealing to me about him is that he's a young, vibrant coach with a lot of energy. I worked with Neil at Ellis Park when he was an upcoming skills coach and I was really impressed. I believe we'll complement each other well."

De Bruin got his big break at senior level at the start of the 2019 season, when he was promoted to backline coach alongside Swys.

He kept his post this year in Cash van Rooyen's setup, but the 2020 vintage came in for criticism because of a perceived lack of experience.

However, it was the type of challenging period that Ackermann believes has merely served to inspire his new assistant.

"Neil's full of ideas, a lot of new ones too. That's exciting. Coupled with what I've learnt in England (with Gloucester) as well as our shared philosophies at the Lions, we can really combine our thoughts into something exciting," he said.

Yet before some sceptics wonder if the Red Hurricanes might become too preoccupied with the lure of attractive rugby, the considerably more experienced Rory Duncan comes in to provide some balance.

The 42-year-old former lock was the Cheetahs' director of rugby for four years and led them to a playoff spot in their inaugural PRO14 campaign.

Following his appointment at Worcester, Duncan and Ackermann became good friends.

"I have a lot of respect for him. His previous positions illustrate that the organisations he represented had a lot of faith in his abilities," said Ackermann.

"He's experienced and accomplished. He'll also bring a new dynamic that I haven't always been used to. I've never had an assistant who could take over coaching the forwards and even some head coach duties while I focus on other things. Sometimes you, as head coach, need to spend time with a player to sort out other issues. A head coach needs time with individuals.

"Rory is the type of guy I can trust fully."

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