Rugby365 report Springbok and Sharks stalwart Johan Ackermann has played his last Super Rugby game for the Sharks – at the ripe old age of 37 years and 272 days.
He is the oldest player in Super Rugby history and finished his Sharks career on a high with a 29-15 win over the Bulls.
The Sharks official website caught up with ‘Ackies’ and asked him for his thoughts on the Sharks’ chances in the Super 14, as well as the other teams.
‘For sure, this side can go all the way. ” he said emphatically when asked about the Sharks prospects this year.
“We’ve maintained the majority of our players from last year, and there are some young and exciting players coming through so I think we can.
“Any side must be blessed without injuries and to keep the unity and momentum going – the Sharks don’t have the upset like the changing of coaches, everything is in place.
“But like last year, although we made it to the final, we lost to the Western Force, which just goes to show that you can lose to any side.
“The supporters should be excited, but still, there are 14 good sides and the competition is open,” he added.
Ackermann kept his cards close to his chest when asked to pick a winner.
“To make a prediction is difficult.
“Stability-wise, the Sharks have a good chance, then sides like the Crusaders and the Blues will always be up there.
“I think it will be a mix between South African and New Zealand sides at the top, but you can never write off the Australian sides.
“They underperformed in the World Cup and they will have a point to prove.
“The Australian teams are going to be tough.
“We don’t know what to expect of them, and they will come out to prove that they can get their rugby back on track,” added the 37-year-old.
The Sharks are sitting pretty in third place on the log and stand alone as the only South African franchise in the top half of the Super 14 log.
The Lions were unlucky to lose against the Western Force on the weekend but Ackermann reckons they will recover from the setback.
“I believe the Lions will have one of their better seasons unless something goes drastically wrong,” he explains.
“Loffie [Eugene] Eloff has settled in now – he has a Super 14 and Currie Cup behind him and a consistent squad.
“The only thing I think that will count against them, and I might be wrong, but if they pick up injuries, they don’t have depth in certain key positions,” he added.
For him, the Stormers are an unknown quality, despite occupying last place after three rounds of the Super 14.
“Because Rassie Erasmus has the ability to turn teams around.
“They have the side on paper and it’s a question of whether they perform like he wants them to,” he said of the struggling Stormers.
He admits that the Bulls have a big challenge ahead of them, mentally.
“To lose Heyneke and Victor, Gary Botha, these are key players.
“We know they have good young players, but I don’t think it will be easy for them.
“This competition is funny, you start losing and then you start looking for faults everywhere and it goes downhill.
“So they will be really up for it, but if they don’t win, people are going to start asking questions.
“Time will tell if they have the right mix,” the stalwart said.
Ackermann feels that the Cheetahs lack depth, and losing their inspirational skipper Juan Smith could prove costly.
“If they pick up three or four injuries, you start picking players who are playing at this level for the first time.
“That could be a problem for them.
“Also, with the loss of so many experienced players [referring to Smith], the guys replacing them are good, but it usually takes a year or more to gel as a team.
“But that’s the great thing about rugby, it’s all about opportunities,” he added.
Clearly Ackermann is not going to pick a winner, preferring to sit on the fence and wait for the action to unfold!
“I believe this competition is really open.
“In the past, New Zealand sides were traditionally first and we also struggled against the Australian sides, but last year we realised we can play against them, so that will hopefully give all South African sides the opportunity to perform, so they realise that if the Bulls and Sharks can do it, they can do it,” he said.
However, he does point out that there are huge expectations resting not only on the South African sides to perform, but on their opposition to beat them.
“There is a lot of pressure on the local sides.
“We won the World Cup, won the Super 14, and where the shoe was always on the feet of the All Blacks and Crusaders, where everyone wanted to beat them, this year, it doesn’t matter which South African franchise you play for, the overseas teams are going to come for you, and that’s going to be the challenge for us.
“Not only to do well, but to do it consistently,” Ackermann concluded.
Ackermann is off to Cape Town to take up a Marketing role with Kepu Petroleum, and will play club rugby for Hamiltons.Tweet