Former Lions loose forward Ruan Ackermann’s contract extension at Gloucester is clearly in line with a possible quest to earn an England call-up, writes ANDRE-PIERRE CRONJE.
Ruan Ackermann, the son of former Lions coach Johan Ackermann, followed his father in joining Premiership club Gloucester in 2017. Nearly four years on and he has penned a contract extension with the ‘Cherry and Whites’ as he continues his quest for an international call-up.
Although Gloucester have not disclosed the length of the contract extension, it is expected to be for a minimum of two years and probably longer. It’s an indication of the value the club places on Ackermann who has scored 11 tries in 75 starts since he joined.
In his time at Gloucester Ackermann has had to compete with stellar back-row players for a spot in the starting lineup. These include Italian international Jake Polledri, current club-captain Lewis Ludlow and ex-Lions teammate Jaco Kriel amidst a host of others.
In spite of the stiff competition Ackerman has established himself as a mainstay in the starting line-up, preferred in the eighthman position.
Ackermann’s decision to commit his future to Gloucester has the added consequence of extending his eligibility to qualify for England on residency. The 25-year-old has previously expressed a desire to play for England and it is understood that he has had contact with head coach Eddie Jones.
However, with a number of talented loose-forwards coming through the ranks in England, Ackermann will have his work cut out if he is to break into any future squad. Although he is versatile enough to cover blindside and eighthman, there is a sense that if he is to have an international future it would have to be in the latter position.
Eddie Jones has been clear about the type of player he is looking for at no. 8 and Ackermann’s physicality may be more in line with Jones’s vision than the speed and skill of a player like Sam Simmonds. Ackermann is similar in mould to England incumbent Billy Vunipola and what he offers as a ball carrying option may be exactly what Jones is after.
Currently Ackermann will find himself on the periphery of England selection. Mark Wilson accompanies Vunipola in the most recent Six Nations squad. Nathan Hughes and Alex Dombrandt (of Bristol and Harlequins respectively) are similar types of player to Ackermann and are both probably ahead of him in the queue for selection.
Jones has also shown a tendency to experiment with flanker Tom Curry at no.8 which presents another obstacle for the Gloucester man.
If Ackermann finds himself down the list for England selection, he’s perhaps even further down the list for Springbok selection. Domestically, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Duane Vermeulen have been that standouts but young Juarno Augustus has put in a number of impressive performances.
Overseas it is Marcell Coetzee, Dan du Preez, Jasper Wiese and Jacques Vermeulen who have arguably all bypassed Ackermann in the Springbok reckoning.
So, to put it bluntly, it will be an uphill battle if Ackermann is to realise his dream of playing international rugby. He has seemingly committed to the England path and it is difficult to argue that it isn’t the right decision for him.
He has grown as player and individual since his move to Gloucester and looks set to continue to develop.
It’s worth remembering that Ackermann is still young and there’s plenty of time yet for him to make his mark and stake his claim.
Gloucester currently find themselves at the foot of the Premiership table, though. He will be hoping that better fortunes for the club as the season progresses will also translate to an international opportunity for him.