July 22, 2017 / 6:32 PM / a month ago

Rugby-Relieved Ackermann feared the worst as Lions scrape late win

JOHANNESBURG, July 22 (Reuters) - Coach Johan Ackermann admitted to “grey-hair moments” as he came within two minutes of ending his tenure with the Lions on a sour note when they were forced into a late rally to beat the Sharks in their Super Rugby quarter-final at Ellis Park on Saturday.

Ackermann, who led the Lions to the final last year where they lost to the Wellington Hurricanes, will leave South Africa for English side Gloucester at the end of this season’s Super Rugby campaign.

But before then he will have a home semi-final meeting with the Hurricanes in Johannesburg next weekend, and a chance to avenge that defeat in the final.

The Lions topped the overall log in the Super Rugby regular season this year and were expected to make light work of the Sharks, whom they had beaten in their previous five meetings.

But the bravery of their opponents in a gritty, gutsy display unsettled Ackermann’s side, forcing them into errors and leaving them trailing 21-20 with two minutes remaining.

Only a sensational 55-metre penalty from wing Ruan Combrinck that cleared the crossbar by mere feet spared Ackermann an ignominious exit from a job he has held since 2013.

“There were a lot of grey-hair moments and I was thinking, this can't be the way I am going to end my time with the Lions,” a relieved Ackermann told reporters.

“We'll take it, but credit to the Sharks. They put us under a lot of pressure. But we also put ourselves on the back foot. At halftime I told the players to lift the intensity and play wider.

“Our decision-making wasn't the best. Hopefully, we can improve that for next weekend. There were opportunities to run and we still kicked sometimes. We must finish those opportunities.

“The whole 80 minutes wasn't good enough. We were lucky to get away with the victory. We have to be better.”

The Lions now have a chance for payback against the Hurricanes after last year’s 20-3 final loss in Wellington.

“I haven't even thought about that,” Ackermann said. “Today was just about getting through to the next round.” (Reporting By Nick Said,; Editing by Neville Dalton)

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