Johan Ackermann: The achilles heel that could strike disaster at the Ricoh, Wasps' star-studded cast, propping issues and the inconsistency in refereeing.
By Ali Stokes
Gloucester boss Johan Ackermann talks high turnover rates, Wasps' star-studded cast, the dearth of props at Kingsholm and inconsistency of Premiership refereeing.
Turnovers will be Gloucester's downfall.
Gloucester boss Johan Ackermann is wary of the inaccuracies that cost his side a first home defeat of the season against a previously out of form Harlequins side last weekend and has insisted that his charges will have to mount a staunch defence and reform a high turnover rate if they are to topple one of the few sides striding ahead of the chasing pack so far this year.
Reflecting on Gloucester’s 25-27 home defeat at the hands of Paul Gustard’s Harlequins last Saturday, Ackermann has called for enhanced precision from his men, contributing a high yield of turnovers to both their downfall last weekend and a potential achilles heel against Wasps this Saturday.
"First of all, we can't give away ball the way we have done.” Ackermann said. “They've [Wasps] got x-factor all over and I do believe defensively we have to be very strong because they've got the players that will break you.
“They've got very good backrowers, good 10s and 9s, centres and outside backs. A quality team."
Ackermann continued: “They [Wasps] are the one side that will hurt you [the most] on turnover ball. Last year they scored a try from our 5 or 10 metre line when they got the ball out of nothing. That actually had a massive swing in the game.”
Gloucester wary of Wasps' star-studded cast
When presented with the potential losses of an injured Joe Launchbury in the engine room and the international absence of attacking lynchpin Willie le Roux at fullback, Ackermann waved aside any notion of a watered down Wasps attack.
The former Springbok coach highlighted the strength in depth his opposite number, Dai Young, boasts within a star-studded cast, pointing out that the loss of le Roux will be compensated for with British and Irish Lion and incumbent England 15, Elliot Daly.
“I think Willie le Roux certainly brings something different,” Ackermann explained. “He’s got that x-factor, but he brings a lot of pace as well on the edges.
“If they go with Daly at fullback, he’s a British and Irish Lion and he just played fullback for England, and he’s not slow himself.
“I don’t think it will change too much. They will still back themselves to look for opportunities to take you wide. The reality for us is that we just have to be better than the last few weeks.”
Ackermann backs u20 duo in wake of propping injury crisis
While Wasps may indeed be without some of their biggest names, Gloucester themselves are currently running on fumes in certain positions.
The Cherry and Whites are down to the bare bones at prop, with tighthead Fraser Balmain touch and go for the weekend’s journey along the M5 to Coventry, Ackermann is hoping for a full recovery from the former Tigers frontrower.
"At the moment we're holding thumbs that Frasier Balmain will make it through his concussion protocol. Other than that we can just put back in our young props, with the likes of Paddy McAllister, Val [Rapava Ruskin], Ruan Dreyer and Gareth Denman out injured, there's not much we can do."
Two such youngsters Gloucester have relied upon so far this season have been the England u20 pairing of Alex Seville and Ciaran Knight.
Both just 20-years-old, Seville and Knight have enjoyed significantly improved game time so far during the 2018/19 Premiership campaign.
While he has little choice, Ackermann has backed the age-grade pair to fill the boots of their senior compatriots.
"Obviously we have to back them [Seville and Knight], they've been good so far. They will take lessons out of the weekend."
Despite such issues in the frontrow, Ackermann claims Gloucester have not yet broached the subject of bringing in short-term replacements, content to back the likes of Seville and Knight while they await the return to fitness of their senior frontrowers.
"I haven't discussed it really with David [Humphries] or the club yet.” Ackermann admitted. “I don't know if it's something we have to look at, but then I don't know if there are any props available at the moment.
"We first want to give our young boys the opportunity."
Gloucester unhappy with officiating inconsistencies
Recent events surrounding the height of the tackle and last season’s breakdown disparity has edged the pressure laid upon our game’s adjudicators yet another notch this season, with fans, pundits and international coaches alike giving the men behind the whistle their two pence worth at any possible opportunity.
Furthermore, Twickenham's head of match officials himself, Tony Spreadbury, has spearheaded a campaign to crack down on backchat directed at officials from players, seeing a marked increase in the enforcement of the law that allows referees to march a side back ten metres.
All this results in the persistently challenging role of a referee at the professional level of the game. A role that some coaches, including Ackermann, have encountered some inconsistency in so far this season.
The Gloucester coaching staff picked out specific incidents following the Harlequins defeat they felt to have been adjudicated on incorrectly and/or inconsistently during the first five rounds of the season.
When queried over the footage the club had sent to Spreadbury, Ackermann said: "We've sent some clips. Again, I want to make it clear that we're not sending clips because we lost. If we'd won that game we probably would have still sent those clips. I don't want referees or people to think I'm only complaining if we lose.”
The 48-year-old further highlighted incidents outside of his side’s fixtures that have caught his eye so far this season, sympathising with Sale Sharks Director of Rugby Steve Diamond following the Manchester-based side’s Welford Road defeat last Sunday.
"The reality is that I'm not talking about our game, if you look at yesterday's game [Leicester Tigers vs Sale] I think Steve Diamond would have been upset with some of the calls that were made and how it can differ from week to week."
While the Gloucester Head Coach is critical of certain refereeing performances or spot calls so far this season, he was at pains to stress his understanding of the complexity of a referee’s role.
He explained: "I don't want to be a ref because I think I'll miss a lot of things. But the reality is that on simple laws there's just such a big inconsistency week by week of what you get from one to the other. It's unfortunately got a bit of influence on the game.
"But I will stress again that we have to be better than we were on Saturday. We didn't lose just because there was inconsistency, we lost because we just weren't good enough on the day as well."
The sharing of such incidents is part of a vital understanding between the coaches and officials. A fluid relationship that must persevere and adapt to the latest trends and law changes within rugby, as opposed to sitting on opposite ends of a constant battle between two sides of a bitter feud.