Ackermann’s departure a big loss for South Africa

Date published: April 9 2017

Lions coach Johan Ackermann’s decision to join Premiership club Gloucester will be a great setback for the game in South Africa, as it means they lose the services of arguably the best coach in that country.

Although, like several South African players, Ackermann could not refuse the lure of coaching at a European club, one can’t help but wonder that the South African Rugby Union (SARU) could regret not doing more to keep him in their structures.

And the 46-year-old former Springbok lock’s departure – at the end of the current Super Rugby season – should set the alarm bells ringing at SARU’s headquarters as he is the latest high profile coach who has opted to leave South Africa’s shores.

By opting to join the Cherry and Whites, Ackermann follows in the footsteps of countrymen like Rassie Erasmus and Jake White who have headed abroad and been relatively successful.

Erasmus has done well since taking over the coaching reins at PRO12 outfit Munster and the Irish province are currently sitting pretty amongst the frontrunners on the PRO12 table and are also preparing to host a Champions Cup semi-final against defending champions Saracens later this month.

And although White is leaving Top 14 club Montpellier at the end of the season, he heads to Toyota Verblitz in Japan after helping the French outfit to claim their first-ever major trophy when they won last year’s Challenge Cup.

Those are tough acts to follow but Ackermann certainly has the ability to match those achievements at Gloucester, who have proved with with his appointment that they are an ambitious club.

Ackermann has made a meteoric rise on the South African coaching scene since he was appointed as the Lions’ head coach at the end of a tumultuous 2012 season.

His appointment coincided with the team’s relegation from Super Rugby that year but under his guidance, they made an immediate return to the competition in 2014 after a season in the wilderness in 2014.

The Lions’ free-flowing style of play – which was introduced by Ackermann’s predecessor John Mitchell – was like a breath of fresh air on the South African rugby scene.

They reached the 2014 Currie Cup Final which they lost narrowly to Western Province but gained revenge on the men from the Cape the following here when they won that competition.

And last year, he guided them to the Super Rugby Final which they lost to the Hurricanes in Wellington.

One thing is certain. Ackermann will be greatly missed when he leaves the Johannesburg-based outfit as under his guidance, the Lions have become a force to be reckoned with in the Southern Hemisphere.

His value to the Lions was best illustrated in the words of their chief executive Rudolf Straeuli who said his union were keen to retain Ackermann’s services.

“We had a long discussion with Johan. Obviously we wanted to keep him,” said Straeuli.

“We honour his decision at the moment and it’s an opportunity for us to grow and keep that continuity with the legacy that he is left.

“In everything you would like to keep people and for us it’s keeping the stability that we have at the moment in our playing and coaching staff.”

After the Springboks’ poor performances in 2016, Ackermann’s name popped up regularly as a potential replacement for incumbent Bok coach Allister Coetzee.

SARU’s decision to retain Coetzee’s services appears to have forced Ackermann’s hand in deciding to head abroad which means South Africa’s loss will now be Gloucester’s gain.

By David Skippers