Columnists 7.12.2017 10:47 am

Ackers serves humble pie as Swys stutters

Jaco van der Merwe.

Jaco van der Merwe.

How many times over the last few years have we heard claims that Johan Ackermann might be the head coach of the Lions, but that his loyal assistant Swys de Bruin is the real brains behind the dizzy heights Joburg’s Pride have grown accustomed to?

Well, there was really only one way of ever finding out and that was if the two went their merry ways, which was the case after Super Rugby.

Ackermann took over the reins at English Premiership outfit Gloucester and De Bruin was given the Lions’ reins with the Currie Cup his first assignment.

Fast forward three months and the duo’s individual paths make quite interesting analysis.

Apart from a very short stint at Northampton during his playing days, Ackers embarked on a journey into the unknown when he set sail for England.

His son Ruan was the only familiar face he was surrounded by, as he had no coaching track record with the club’s squad members and had to accept the assistants given to him.

After a mere 10 matches, Ackermann’s charges are up to second on the log and only trail Exeter.

A mammoth effort from a team that has been very mediocre in recent years, finishing no higher than 8th over the previous three seasons.

Back in Joburg, De Bruin had a much smoother ride continuing his time at Ellis Park without his long-time confidant.

He did have the tough task of juggling between the Super Rugby play-offs and the start of the Currie Cup campaign and then had to keep the players motivated after failing the capture the Super Rugby title.

To his credit, his side did gain some momentum in the latter stages of the Currie Cup, but the tactical mess in which they subdued to eventual champions Western Province in the semifinals at Newlands is a serious blotch behind his name.

We might never know exactly whose call it was to try and play cat and mouse with their front row selection – with forwards coach Victor Matfield the other possible culprit – but it happened under De Bruin’s watch nonetheless and that has got to be worrying for any Lions fan.

If you have Malcolm Marx, who has without a doubt staked his claim as the world’s best hooker this year, at your disposal flanked by the two props who made up one of the best Super Rugby front rows in 2017, why do you have to play silly little tricks?

Picking them in the original starting team, only to leave them on the bench at kickoff and then send them on after 30 minutes backfired badly.

A team boasting a host of Super Rugby final starters doesn’t need little sideshows to show their class, especially in a lesser competition.

Look, it is harsh to judge De Bruin by one horrendous tactical mishap and unfair on Ackermann to make him out as a messiah purely on Gloucester’s current form.

The reality is that De Bruin could still win the Super Rugby title and Ackermann’s charges might not even reach the Premiership play-offs.

But during their time together, could it be that Ackermann was underrated and De Bruin overrated?

Only time will tell.


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