For veteran lock Johan Ackermann, recall from retirement presents him with the opportunity of ending his career where it all started, 13 years ago.
“If I play the Bulls at Loftus (March 1st), then I would have come a full circle in my career, having started there in 1995,” he explains to Michael Marnewick of www.sharksrugby.co.za.
And should he play in the Western Force match, he will be 37 years and 257 days old, the oldest player in the history of Super Rugby. Given his form in the past two years when he earned a Springbok recall after a five year hiatus and helped the Sharks to top position on the log which afforded them the opportunity of hosting a home semi and home final in last year’s Super 14, his experience will be crucial as the Sharks aim for a good start in the competition.
He explains how it all happened: “Dick [Muir] called me in December and said that he would like me to remain on standby because of an injury to Steven Sykes. In January I received a job offer in Cape Town (with Kepu Petroleum, a Marketing position for their Oil, Diesel and Petrol product range) and that created a bit of doubt in my mind whether I should come back to the Sharks.
“Fortunately an agreement was reached between Kepu and the Sharks that I would be available for the first three rounds. So I am back, but just for a short spell.”
He does admit that he has remained fit since his ‘retirement’ last year. “What happens with most rugby players is they pick up weight once they retire because they no longer spend all their lives in the gym and at training, so I did gym, swim and cycle. Obviously I haven’t had a preseason with the Sharks so need to practice the scrums and lineouts.
“I have started training again, but at my age, recovery isn’t as good as it was before, so I am a little stiff, but I should be OK in a week or two. I am not as fit as I was in my prime, but at least I know all the shortcuts!”
The motivation isn’t simply to play again, but to be a part of something special. “I believe we have lost a couple of key players, but Dick and John have done their homework, identifying players last year already like Bismarck and Frans Steyn and the guys who can step up,” he explains. “It will be exciting to be a part of this side. If we start well we should have a really good season, perhaps go that one step further.”
Looking back, he admits that he’s had a good career. “I’ve had my ups and downs, some lows, but with God’s grace I came through it all and have something to look back on and be happy about.
“I was fortunate to play for the Springboks again in 2006 [prior to that, his last Test was in 2001], and then another three games last year, and that’s always a privilege, especially at this late stage of my career. It’s a nice record to have, but I would love to have played more Tests.”
Having retired last year and then been coaxed into a brief return, he explains that, “Rugby is so much a part of one’s life and blood, so to say enough is enough can be difficult. I have really enjoyed the last two years with the Sharks and the friends I have made and the way Dick and John managed me, everything was enjoyable.
“That made it even more difficult to make a decision to retire. But the problem is that life goes on after rugby, and meanwhile you have a wife and three kids at home, so I had to make the choice, and I think everything is coming together nicely for me.
“There is no more uncertainty about what happens after rugby; I have a job in place, and now I will enjoy the last few games with the side I have enjoyed being with over the past two years.”Tweet