Johan Ackermann and Warren Whiteley have praised the tactical adjustments the Lions made to secure an important win over the Sharks at Kings Park, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
After suffering a disappointing defeat to the Crusaders the week before, the Lions turned up at Kings Park on Saturday clearly with a point to prove. To at least some degree, they tempered their natural attacking instincts, played the percentages and outfoxed the Sharks at their own game.
The Lions were physical, clinical and dominated the home side at scrum time. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies conducted proceedings with aplomb once again, while the Lions produced a far more accurate all-round performance on defence.
Ackermann and his coaching staff also deserve credit for their astute selections that saw the right-footed Jaco van der Walt start at fullback, the more reliable Ross Cronjé come in at scrumhalf, while burly Rohan Janse van Rensburg added a more physical presence on defence in the midfield.
The end result was a first-ever Super Rugby win for the Lions in Durban, while the four log points attained took them to the top of the Africa 2 conference.
‘We were definitely better tactically than we were against the Crusaders,’ Ackermann acknowledged after the clash. ‘If we had done half of what we did in this game, and if our defence was as good, we could have beaten the Crusaders. The one area where we knew we had to improve was on defence. The Sharks have big ball-carriers and a number of Springboks in their team, while tactically we knew we had to find a better balance.
‘There were a couple of occasions I felt we even went a little bit too much into our shells when we could have stuck with our attacking mindset. But those are occasions when you have to back the players to make the right decisions, and I think they did that.’
Ackermann said they had carefully considered the threats posed by the Sharks and the conditions they expected to encounter on a warm evening in Durban.
‘You have to get used to the conditions early on, while we knew the Sharks are a strong side with a good mix between youth and experience. I’m proud of the planning that went in and the execution we delivered. We can’t get ahead of ourselves, this result is one for the books, but it will mean nothing at the end if we don’t build even further from here.’
Whiteley, a former Sharks player himself, said the Lions realised that they needed to front up in the forward exchanges if they hoped to lay a foundation for victory.
‘We knew we had to first win the battle up front, the Sharks are very strong in that regard, and are a defensively orientated side. We needed to play smarter rugby than we had the week before, especially in the humid conditions. We haven’t won a Super Rugby game here before, so it’s obviously very pleasing.’
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