Ackermann backs Lions new depth in forwards

Lions assistant coach Johan Ackermann says he is confident that they finally have a strong forward pack going into the Super Rugby season.

The Lions have been thin at lock, in recent years, but have finally found some depth in the second row.

“We now have good grinders in Wikus van Heerden, Michael Rhodes, Hendrik Roodt, Stephan Greeff and Marius Coetzer,” said Ackermann.

“We also have two current SA Under-20 guys, Paul Willemse and Ettiene Oosthuizen.”

Suffering a 28-6 defeat to the Stormers in a pre-season warm-up match last Friday, Ackermann said the Lions were still far from the complete package.

“We were predictable in the way we played but we were satisfied after acquiring that physical contact and we wanted our forwards to work hard, which they did,” Ackermann said.

“Our basic ball skills looked a bit rusty, we lost some balls in contact and our lineouts also looked rusty.”

However, Ackermann felt they would be able to iron out some of the rough spots displayed in Cape Town with three weeks to go before their opening Super Rugby match against the Cheetahs in Johannesburg.

The Lions have been hit by injuries to some of their key staff, the latest setback being a knee injury to centre Dylan des Fountain which could see him out of the game for up to six months.

Other injury concerns included those to playmaker flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who had a broken bone in his hand, and scrumhalves Ross Cronje and Wesley Moolman who were also nursing injuries.

Ackermann said the niggling injuries would be addressed within the next month.

“Obviously you want as few as possible injuries but we need to work through it and that is where your depth will count.”

There was healthy competition among the forwards and Ackermann used the example of Pat Cilliers, who would be under pressure from Jacobie Adriaanse at tighthead prop.

The squad members will play against each other on Friday to gain match fitness and get to grips with the laws which referees will be focusing on during the completion.

Ackermann said the breakdowns would be strictly umpired following Kiwi referee Bryce Lawrence’s controversial handling of the breakdowns in the Springboks’ defeat to Australia in last year’s Rugby World Cup quarterfinal.

“That was apparently the final straw and referees were told to improve the umpiring of the breakdowns,” Ackermann said.

Assistant referees at Super Rugby level would also be called upon to monitor the offside lines at the ruck and maul and infringements close to the touchline.

The coach said the offside line would receive greater attention from referees during this Super Rugby competition.

This year could be a deciding one for the future of the scrums as teams have been warned to straighten up this area of the game.

It is understood that referees have been told to reduce the amounts of restarts by 20 per cent or radical changes could be introduced which

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