Pick ‘Ackers’ for the Boks

Sharks hard man AJ Venter has urged the national selectors to pick veteran lock Johan Ackermann and not hold his age against him.

Venter, speaking to Keo.co.za, said Ackermann had been a revelation in the Sharks pack and had added grunt and granite to the unit.

“We call him the jaws of life when it comes to protecting or winning the ball in a maul. If he wraps his arms around an opponent that bugger is going nowhere and when he’s got the ball in contact, no one is going to wrestle it from him,” said Venter. “His presence also means guys like Britzie and I feel like youngsters. We are no longer veterans.”

Venter said Ackermann was playing as well as he has ever seen the big guy perform and added that the match-up with Bakkies Botha in Saturday’s Vodacom Super 14 showdown would be worth the admission fee alone.

“Ackers has added a dimension to our pack. He really gives us solidity and he has stabilized our tight five. His calmness and presence is also a great boost for the team. He is in great shape and his performances this season again show how important experience is and why we should never discard the so-called older brigade too soon.”

Ackermann, after a fine season with Griquas in 2005, was drafted into Dick Muir’s Sharks for the Super 14.

Venter, adding to captain John Smit’s sentiments of Monday, said the Sharks had changed their approach for all the South African matches.

“In the past we have been guilty of turning every South African match into a derby and losing focus. We have worried too much about the other SA team and forgot to focus on our own strengths. Our approach on Saturday is that we prepare for the Bulls as we would any other team in the competition. If they want to motivate themselves on the derby element that’s their issue. We don’t see it as a Bok trial. We don’t see it as individuals having to prove a point against another Bulls individual. We know we have to win to stay alive in the competition and that is our motivation, to be successful and still be in a position to challenge for the play-offs.”

Venter said it was obvious that the Sharks would physically have to be on top of their game to beat the Bulls, but stressed there was so much more to the Sharks game plan than a physical presence.

“I’d like to think we have more to offer and I think people who have watched the Sharks this season would agree. We have played some very good rugby and there has been a balance in our approach. We have concentrated on patience when we have the ball and not rushing things. We know it will be physical, but that is the least of my concerns. I know physically what our pack and the team, collectively, is capable of. More importantly, this season we have seen how our players can attack space and play from depth. If we play like we train, we should be alright.”

The Sharks have injury concerns around halfbacks Ruan Pienaar and Tony Brown, but Venter said any Sharks starting XV would be capable of leaving Loftus with a win.

“If we do the basics well and play as we have this season we will win. Obviously Ruan and Tony have been very instrumental to our success, but credit must be given to those guys who have also played at 9 and 10. They have been very good and the depth the coaches have built in the squad this season is a strength.”