Lions hoping for shot at redemption

Lions interim head coach Johan Ackermann says the team will do much better next season – should they retain their Super Rugby status.

There’s so much speculation surrounding the Lions’ Super Rugby future ahead of Saru’s final call on the Southern Kings saga in August.

There were reports over the weekend that the national union has offered the Kings R40m to drop the ‘promise’ they made to the Eastern Cape franchise back in January. If these rumours are true and the Kings submit, the Lions will remain in the tournament next year.

Ackermann hopes for a favourable outcome as the Johannesburg franchise struggled with an injury crisis for most of the season.

‘This is a very hard wait, but we are hoping that we get a second chance in Super Rugby next year,’ Ackermann told keo.co.za. ‘We were confident that our 2011 Currie Cup form could be carried into this year’s Super Rugby campaign. But we suffered so many injuries … most of our first-choice players, who formed part of that wonderful domestic run, were sidelined. We had to promote a lot of youngsters, which would affect all teams if they were in a similar situation.

‘We also lacked experience at this level. We had 12 players who played Super Rugby for the first time.’

But the question remains, do the Lions deserve their spot in Super Rugby? Their 2012 record of three triumphs from 16 matches sees their overall tournament winning percentage drop to just 19.5% (19 wins out 97 games since 2006).

However, Ackermann says there are positives to draw out of the season, that will make them more competitive in 2013.

‘The fact that we’ve played so many youngsters has increased our depth. With some senior players returning, we can build momentum during the Currie Cup. It was encouraging to see many of our younger players holding their own.

‘The performances of our forwards were also very encouraging. We need to work on the lineouts, but our scrums and breakdown work created some momentum for us. We found ourselves still in the game by half-time of many of our fixtures this season. But we failed to capitalise on that. Once we build as a team and continue to grow, we will start finishing off much better.’

By Gareth Duncan