Ackermann wants Lions to play an expansive game

The Lions will start their Super Rugby preparations in earnest when they take on the Leopards at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Friday.

The union has named two 28-man sides for their first Super Rugby warm-up matches of 2014.

Making their return to the premier southern-hemisphere competition, Lions coach Johan Ackermann has taken a cautious approach by allowing some of his stalwarts a rest this weekend.

Among the players who would be watching from the sidelines were Springbok lock Franco van der Merwe, Jaco Kriel, Julian Redelinghuys, Jacques van Rooyen, Marnitz Boshoff, Andries Coetzee and newly-appointed skipper Warren Whiteley.

“These are guys that we know exactly where they are with their fitness and what we will get from them this season,” Ackermann said.

“I don’t think it is necessary for them to play in all three warm-up matches. I would rather have them fresh going into the first Super Rugby match.”

“There are a lot of guys in their specific positions that we want to see where they are.”

The first match on Friday will see the two rugby unions’ Vodacom Cup sides take each other on, before the Lions face the NWU Pukke’s Varsity Cup side.

A rolling substitution system will be in place for both matches, as both games act as opportunities to test and assess various combinations.

“Everybody is excited to take the first contact and you can see from training that the guys are looking forward to test what we’ve done over the last few weeks.

“We want to tick all the boxes. We want to see where we are in terms of rucking, defence, on attack and what our ball skills are like.”

Ackermann said he would like to give some of their new signings, namely Vainon Willis and Courtnall Skosan (Bulls) and Schalk van der Merwe (Free State), an opportunity to show off their skills.

Unlike previous years where the Lions paid little attention to players from their franchise partners, the Leopards and the Pumas, some of those players could find themselves in Super Rugby this season.

The starting line-up for the main encounter included Pumas players Stefan Watermeyer, Faf de Klerk, Rudi Mathee, Corne Fourie and Coenie van Wyk.

While the Lions were in Super Rugby wilderness in 2013, Ackermann picked up some trends from the competition.

He said teams with the best defensive systems were the ones which made it to the top of the table. There had also been an emphasis on tactical kicking.

“People always think the New Zealand teams run the ball a lot but they also kick tactically well,” Ackermann said.

“Hopefully we can come up with something new and there will also be other teams that will test you in certain areas.”

Ackermann said his side would not deviate from their expansive style of play, while they had introduced some changes to their game plan.

“Time will tell whether it works for us but you have to adapt to what you see and to what the opposition’s strong points and weaknesses are,” he said.

“We have a bunch of young guys and the last thing you want is to have a team that plays in fear of trying things.”

The first warm-up game will kick off at 4.30pm on Friday, while the second match will get underway from 7pm.

The Lions play their first Super Rugby game against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on February 15.

Match 1 side:

Kobus de Kock, Ruhan Nel, Stokkies Hanekom, Adriaan Engelbrecht, Juan Swanepoel, Brendon Hewitt, Ricky Schroeder, Ruaan Lerm, Thabo Mamojele, Thabo Mabuza, Hugo Kloppers, Lourence Erasmus, Nico van Zyl, Malcolm Marx, Tyson Mulamba. Replacements: Mark Pretorius, David Kounga, Ruan Venter, MB Lusaseni, Stephan de Wit, Stephan Vermuelen, Jano Venter, Guy Cronje, Ruan van Rensburg, Carlisle Nel, Robert de Bruyn, Caswell Khoza, Hanco Deale.

Match 2 side:

Coenie van Wyk, Vainon Willis, JW Jonker, Stef

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