Ruan Ackermann (Getty Images)
- For the first time in their careers, Johan and Ruan Ackermann will separate professionally, but Johan believes might just be the tonic his eldest son needs.
- Ackermann preaches against complacency, though he has no doubt the 24-year-old former Lions flanker can play Test rugby, especially given his ability to adapt.
- Intriguingly, versatile Ruan hopes to focus on the No 8 position – a spot that might become more keenly contested at the Springboks from next year.
Johan Ackermann admits both he and his eldest son, Ruan, will have to adapt as they part ways professionally for the first time in their careers.
The two men have been inseparable for the past five years, first at the Lions and then at English club Gloucester.
Last month, however, Ackermann senior took up an offer from NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes to coach them, with junior staying put at Kingsholm Stadium.
“A new chapter lies ahead for Ruan,” Ackermann told Sport24.
“The fact that I’m not there anymore is going to be an adjustment for him, just as much as its going to be one for me.”
The powerful, versatile 24-year-old flanker has steadily carved out a name for himself in the UK and chose not to follow his father to Japan because he’ll qualify for Eddie Jones’ England by the end of July under the residency rule.
And the challenge of having to maintain his high standards on his own is arguably just the thing he needs to steel himself for international rugby.
“It’s part of his development and growth,” said Ackermann.
“If Ruan can pick up his form and perform consistently, there can undoubtedly fall something in place for him (in terms of an international call-up). Yet one shouldn’t get ahead of oneself. He should just continue to enjoy his rugby and keep on working hard.”
Ruan’s history certainly suggests that he’d be able to summon the type of adaptability that will be needed of him.
“He had to prove himself all over again when we came to England, just like he had to do at the Lions,” said Ackermann.
“We can’t deny that he had to convince some people why he needed to be selected. Gloucester was also blessed with a fine group of loose forwards in Ben Morgan, Jake Polledri and Lewis Ludlow.
“All those men have played at a very high level and Ruan had to work hard. He’s done really well in the past three years, particularly in a different environment. The first year was a big adjustment for all of us, it’s never easy.”
Ruan had to indeed leave a tight group of friends behind, yet, during his time at Ellis Park, had already shown some independence by opting to stay in Johannesburg while the rest of the family resided in Pretoria.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Ackermann.
Intriguingly, should the former Garsfontein pupil manage to catch the Springbok brains trust’s eye, he favours a position where succession planning will become important after the British & Irish Lions tour next year: Duane Vermeulen’s No 8 jersey.
“I believe his versatility is a good thing. He played in all three positions of the loose trio as well as lock at the Lions. At Gloucester he hasn’t been selected in the second row yet, but he’s played everywhere else. I really don’t think it will harm his prospects because he’s really comfortable,” said Ackermann.
“But if you ask him personally, he’d say he really enjoys eighthman.”
More importantly, the slower conditions of the UK and Europe has imbued him with the discipline required of an international player.
“He’s had to adapt his game. Conditions are fundamentally different. It’s not such a big change for Ruan because he really relishes contact and the physicality of English rugby. But the freedom we had at the Lions is rare,” said Ackermann.
“It limits instinctive play a bit, you can’t just do what you want. I think he’s dealt with that change really well.”