While resting his first-choice lineup last week, Lions coach Johan Ackermann was positive his A-team wouldn’t be lacking match sharpness in Saturday’s big home quarterfinal against the impressive Crusaders.
Ackermann said while it was not in a full-throttle match situation, the A-team prepared well last week when the rest of the squad was in Argentina.
“I trust that the players have learned over the last year or so what needs to be expected after a break,” said Ackermann.
“We trained very well this week, especially on Thursday, to ensure the intensity is right up there,” said Ackermann.
The Lions coach who has steered the team this season to record-high of 11 wins out of 15 matches, said, however, last week was not the typical bye week.
“In the bye week, what catches you is that you normally come out of a six-week match period, and then you give the guys like three, four days completely off, and sometimes the entire week,” he said.
“But we didn’t treat it as a bye week, the purpose of the guys staying behind was to get maximum treatment for those who had niggles, to train as hard as possible,” he said.
Ackermann said one thing he stressed to his team this week was that they could not allow another bad start like the last time they played the Crusaders and lost 43-37 back in April at Ellis Park, when centre Ryan Crotty scored in the second minute of the game and built up a 36-20 lead in the 10 minutes after halftime.
“The players will tell you last Thursday and Friday when we were overseas they actually had contact and trained very hard,” he said.
“So I don’t believe that match sharpness would be a factor, and everybody knows what’s at stake; you can’t take 10-15 minutes to get into the swing of it,” he said.
- The Lions’ position on the log is the highest it has ever been in Super Rugby.
In 2001, still playing as the Cats, they finished third (and lost to the Cell C Sharks in the semi-final), while the Cats were fourth in 2000 (and lost to the Brumbies in the semi-final).
- The Highvelders have won their last four games on home soil. A fifth straight win would be their longest home winning streak in a single Vodacom Super Rugby season.
- The Johannesburg side have won an average of 8.7 turnovers a game so far in 2016, the most of any team and 1.2 per game more than the Crusaders.
- The Crusaders have won their last seven games against the Emirates Lions, scoring 28 points or more on all but one occasion.
- The Crusaders have won 19 of their last 23 games against South African opposition (L4), including victories in each of their last four finals games against them.
- Only one player this season (Matt Faddes – 29) has made more clean breaks than Crusaders duo of Nemani Nadolo (28) and Johnny McNicholl (27).