JOHANNESBURG — Golden Lions’ coach Johan Ackermann says it was mission accomplished in his team’s first outing of the rugby season in the Lions Challenge, when they annihilated Russia 51-13 in Johannesburg on Saturday night.
The Lions Challenge comes in the wake of the Johannesburg franchise’s relegation from this year’s Super Rugby competition.
"We’ve achieved our first objective to win, and I am happy with that," Ackermann said.
The challenge will culminate in promotion-relegation matches against the South African team that finishes last in the country’s Super Rugby conference.
While Ackermann was satisfied with his team’s performance, he felt there was plenty to improve on. "One particular area was the restarts. When they kicked on us, we made it difficult to get out of our own half," he said.
"It probably had a bit to do with the weather and we didn’t get to do what we planned."
The Lions were in rampant form in the wet conditions, scoring five tries. Referee Lourens van der Merwe awarded them two penalty tries. The Johannesburg-based side was also solid in defence, conceding only one try.
However, Ackermann said the team displayed early-season rust, which he would like to see the team shed as soon as possible.
"There is definitely rustiness that we need to sort out and there were also new combinations and you could see as the game progressed we got a bit better," Ackermann said. He would continue to test combinations before deciding who his regular starters would be, he said.
"We are fortunate there are no injuries, which is the first positive, but because of the new faces there will definitely have to be some guys that get the opportunity next week. It was the ideal start and, unfortunately, there will be a few new combinations … to test, which would be their first match.
"By week three or four everybody should have received an opportunity and then we can ensure that we have the best team on the field."
Lions captain JC Janse van Rensburg said the team did not indulge in any Russian vodka after the match as they had to be fresh for today’s training and they could ill-afford any "niggling injuries".
"Next week the level of the competition goes up playing against the Cheetahs, and we want to prove ourselves against the guys playing Super Rugby," Janse van Rensburg said.