Ackermann staying put

Lions coach Johan Ackermann has dismissed suggestions that he could be moving to Japan in the near future.

Reports surfaced earlier this week that Ackermann had received a big-money offer from a Japanese club, and that the 2015 season might be his last in Johannesburg. However, on Thursday, Ackermann said that although he had received an offer to coach in Japan, it was nothing more than a 'polite enquiry'.

'I think the teams from Japan just wanted to do some fishing and see if I would be available,' Ackermann told Netwerk24.

'I have agreed in principle to continue to lead the team [until 2016]. It now just has to be ratified.

'I have a plan that I want to execute here. We have developed the team, but we have yet to win trophies. I don't want to look elsewhere until I have achieved that goal.'

It's welcome news for the Lions, who announced a new long-term sponsorship deal this week. Speaking at that announcement, Ackermann defended his decision to play only two warm-up matches, against the Leopards and Pukke, in preparation for the upcoming Super Rugby season.

'We play nine consecutive games before our first bye. So you don't want a full pre-season schedule, because by the ninth round of the series we may already have 12 or 13 games behind us. This is way too much.

'There is of course the danger that we may be a little half-baked going into the tournament, but that's solely a physical thing.

'We hope the situation sorts itself out in the first few weeks. I'd rather take the risk [to play fewer warm-up matches], than have 10 players injured early in the tournament.'

The Lions exceeded expectations last season, recording their best Super Rugby season since the disbanding of the Cats. Ackermann believes that success could count against them this season, as teams will no longer underestimate their abilities.

'We are no longer a rookie team. The players have experienced Super Rugby and also have a Currie Cup final under their belts.

'There are also a couple players who toured with the Springboks. That experience will be a big help to us.

'Perhaps in the last few years our opponents have been overconfident against us, and underestimated us a bit. That will certainly not be the case in 2015.'

Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix