SA Rugby should be doing everything in its power to dissuade Lions coach Johan Ackermann from taking up an offer to head overseas, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Just as much as the player drain has seen a never-ending conveyer belt of top local talent moving abroad, so it’s become a case of seeing some of South Africa’s leading rugby minds also being lost to the SA rugby cause.
Take a look at only a few of these highly-regarded coaches who have taken their intellectual property to overseas teams: Jake White, Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber, John Plumtree, Alan Solomons, Dawie Theron, Omar Mouneimne, Brendan Venter, John Mitchell, Frans Ludeke, and the list goes on. Not to mention the fact that Nick Mallett is quite happily ensconced in the SuperSport studio.
Now, Ackermann appears to be on the verge of adding to that brain drain, with English Premiership side Gloucester believed to have tabled a highly attractive offer.
After the Lions’ resounding win over the Reds on Saturday, Ackermann adopted a philosophical stance. He reflected on the journey the Johannesburg-based side has been on since he took up the head coaching job in late 2012.
During that time, he has taken the Lions from Super Rugby relegation to runners-up in 2016. As an outstanding man manager, he has brought out the best in those players around him, with many rising to stardom from relative obscurity.
Without fail, every top Lions player I have interviewed over recent years has heralded the influence Ackermann has played in their career. In addition, his astute approach to the game has seen the Lions fearlessly adopt a brand of high-paced rugby that is tailor-made to the squad that has been assembled.
At the end of last year, I wrote that Ackermann should be entrusted to lead the Springboks in a new direction. That view has not been altered. If the Boks slip up against France in June, and Allister Coetzee is finally shown the door, there is no reason for SA Rugby to look any further than Ackermann.
Yet, whatever the case may be, at a time when the Lions coach is clearly weighing up his options, SA Rugby needs to act decisively to engage Ackermann about what they envisage for his future in the national game.
If they view Ackermann as the next Bok coach, he should be offered this endorsement, and then conversations should revolve around what would be the next best step for the Lions mentor.
As it is, Ackermann put it best on Saturday night when he commented: ‘Do I want to coach in Super Rugby for another three or four seasons, and believe that will be the best for me as a coach, or do I leave this place in a good space and I test myself in Europe … at European and Premiership levels, and grow as a coach over there?’
It’s a valid point. If Coetzee is going to retain relative immunity to see out the remainder of his contract until 2019, perhaps there is real value in allowing Ackermann to experience new challenges and grow as a coach before returning to SA Rugby.
Yet what a loss this would be for the Lions. Although Ackermann has inspired a remarkable revival at Ellis Park, there is surely a sense of unfinished business until the Johannesburg-based side go all the way in Super Rugby.
And after another couple of years under the tutelage of Ackermann, just how much better could the likes of Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies and Rohan Janse van Rensburg become?
What SA Rugby should be doing is looking to enter into the negotiation process with Ackermann and even Gloucester. Perhaps a compromise could be reached in terms of allowing Ackermann to take up a consultancy or technical director role, while remaining primarily committed to the Lions for at least the first half of the year.
SA Rugby should be fighting for Ackermann. The coaches indabas that recently took place were meant to be about knowledge sharing and cooperation between franchises. Is that really taking place?
In an ideal world, the priority would be to ensure that the Lions remain at the top of their game, while tapping into the intellectual property of the coaches who have enabled the franchise to embrace such an effective brand of rugby.
At the end of the day, the loss of coaching intellect in South Africa is as damning and damaging as the ever-increasing player exodus overseas, and it would be a sad state of affairs if Ackermann adds to this brain drain due to a lack of appreciation, foresight or open communication.
Photo: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images