Incoming Lions head coach Swys de Bruin aims to continue building on the successful foundations that are already in place at the Johannesburg-based franchise, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Tuesday it was confirmed that De Bruin will take over as the Lions’ new head coach after this Super Rugby season, with highly-regarded Johan Ackermann set to join English club Gloucester.
De Bruin has worked as Ackermann’s ‘right-hand man’ since 2013, during which time the Lions have progressed from Super Rugby relegation to become the leading team in South African rugby.
Chatting to SARugbymag.co.za on Wednesday, De Bruin said he was humbled by the honour of his appointment, which will see him serve as a head coach of a Super Rugby side for the first time in his career.
‘This appointment really means so much to me after all these years in this game. I’ve been a head coach at various levels and at different places before, but this will be my first chance at Super Rugby level,’ he commented.
‘It’s been an absolute highlight of my life and career to be on this journey at the Lions, and especially to do it with someone like Ackers, who placed his trust in me all those years ago. We’ve been together five years now, and to have been able to work with people like that who have such strong character, it’s made it very special.’
De Bruin said he would have some big coaching boots to fill when he takes over from Ackermann.
‘There’s really only one of his kind, and I’ve learned so much from him. Personally, I think it’s quite sad that he could be named [SA Rugby’s] Coach of the Year for three years in a row, and yet it still wasn’t enough for him to be involved with the Springbok coaching team in some way. But he gave me the big chance five years ago to be his right-hand man, and I remain so thankful to him for that.’
In naming the Lions' new head coach, CEO Rudolf Straeuli reiterated that it would provide the union with stability and continuity, and the 57-year-old De Bruin said he hoped this would enable last year’s Super Rugby runners-up to continue going from strength to strength.
‘I know these players so well, and I actually knew a lot of them even before we stared this journey together. So it’s really about just carrying on with a bunch of guys that I have a close understanding with, and hopefully we can just keep building on this foundation that’s in place.
‘We want to keep on striving to be better, but it's important to just stick to our processes. We’re not going to compare one year to another, all we want to do is keep working hard, enjoy what we’re doing and retain the faith in our style of play. Then the focus is on the right things. I don’t want a gun against my head to think “what now?”. I just want to enjoy every moment.’
On Tuesday, the Lions also announced that the majority of the current Super Rugby squad will still be available next year, while De Bruin said there would be minimal disruption to the coaching team.
‘Most of our players will be here for at least another Super Rugby season, and we also have a settled management team. JP Ferreira will still be here, and he’s a top-class defence coach, and we have a brilliant trainer in Ivan van Rooyen. We just have to look for a suitable replacement for Ackers to take care of the forwards, but that process is already under way.’
And although Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith had been strongly linked as a possible successor to Ackermann just last week, there can be no doubt that De Bruin is most deserving of his promotion in the end.
‘Obviously for a top job like this, other names will come up. It is a side that’s doing very well,’ De Bruin said. ‘But to even be spoken of in the same breath as other top coaches, and then to still get the job, that means a lot. At my age, I’m not threatened by anyone, I just want to do my job, and it’s something I love doing.
‘The first thing is to hopefully take what we’ve started even further,' he added. 'Secondly, I want to make a difference to the players’ lives and careers. The last thing is for us to lift the Super Rugby trophy, and that remains a dream we all want to fulfil.’
Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix