Columnists 1.8.2018 12:15 pm

Swys moves out of Ackermann’s shadow

Jaco van der Merwe.

Jaco van der Merwe.

It was a slog but the Lions coach has proven his worth in 2018, even if there were some fortunate circumstances.

In the immediate aftermath of Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin going their separate ways after their formidable partnership that served the Ellis Park faithful so well over the years, things were not looking all that rosy for De Bruin.

At that stage, the new Lions coach had to foot the bill for a serious tactical blunder in their Currie Cup semifinal at Newlands when they took down a stupidly strong forwards pack but instead of scrumming their way to a win tried to play cat-and-mouse with team selections and ill-timed substitutions.

Needless to say, they failed to advance to the final after doing very well just to reach the play-offs after their Super Rugby and Currie Cup campaigns overlapped by three full weeks.

Up north Ackers was the happier man at Gloucester.

He took to the switch like a duck to water despite giving up his comfortable surrounds and his new team were
occupying a play-off position on the Premiership table for most of the early parts of the season.

That set of circumstances even prompted this column to ask the question who the real brains behind the Lions juggernaut was after listening to speculation over the years that Ackers brought man-management to their former
partnership, whereas De Bruin was believed to be the mastermind of the rugby tactics.

Well a lot has happened since then and it will only be fair to reassess the situation.

Ackermann’s charges faded during the latter part of their campaign, signing off in seventh place out of 12 teams.

Gloucester also missed the opportunity to finish the season with silverware by losing the European Challenge
Cup – the second-tier continental competition – against the Cardiff Blues.

But, in Ackermann’s defence, his team did qualify for next season’s top-tier competition – the Champions Cup – through a fortunate set of events and ensured his reputation stays intact.

And down south De Bruin’s stock has risen tremendously at the back end of a very topsy-turvy Super Rugby season.

Just like that, the Lions find themselves back in the final and again have a chance to etch their names in South African rugby folklore.

Yes, the Brumbies did do the Lions a massive favour by beating the Waratahs in their final round-robin fixture which paved the way for Joburg’s Pride to host a home semifinal.

But, last season it was the Hurricanes that did the Lions a big favour by beating the Crusaders right at the end of the group stage to clear the way for the Johannesburg franchise to host the final.

At the end of the day, De Bruin has proved his worth outside Ackers’ shadow and the latter has showed he can cope just fine without his former right-hand man.

Yes, you could argue that De Bruin’s transition was probably easier staying in the familiar surrounds of Doornfontein than was the case with Ackers packing for a foreign land, but it was anything but plain sailing for Ackers’ former assistant.

He had to overcome serious personnel issues with injuries to key players at various times during the season, resulting in changes to their game plan and an unusually big number of losses compared to previous seasons.

But none of that will matter if they do the unthinkable in Christchurch.

Maybe that’s the only way De Bruin can distance himself from Ackers for once and for all.

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