He represented the University from 1948 to 1955 in the Grand Challenge, Knock-out Cup, Town Challenge Western Province competitions, annual tours and intervarsity matches. He won his first honours when Stellenbosch won the Grand Challenge Championship in 1951, 1955 and 1956. In 1950, after a win against the University of Cape Town, Ackerman also made his debut for Western Province in both friendly matches and the Currie Cup. However, he missed selection for the team to face Transvaal in the final at the end of the season. He won full honorary colours from the university and kept his place in the provincial side until 1957.
During 1951–52, Ackerman played in five intervarsity matches and against the touring Oxford-Cambridge combination which Stellenbosch beat 11–8. He was then selected for the Southern Universities XV (Stellenbosch and Cape Town) against the British tourists as well as Western Province. His consistent performances saw him selected for a University for a tour of Rhodesia and a match against the Australian Wallabies a year later.
When the Currie Cup competition resumed in 1954, Ackerman was playing with at least four future rugby league players in Rudi Hasse, Gert Rheeders, Alan Skene and Ivor Dorrington. As one of only 24 players selected for Western Province that season, Ackerman played in his first provincial Currie Cup final against Northern Transvaal – with Tom van Vollenhoven in their ranks – on 18 September. After intercepting a pass, he scored a critical try to help to cement a WP 11–8 victory. This earned him a place in a South African Invitation XV against Eastern Province which put him on the threshold of full national recognition.
During the 1955 season, Ackerman, along with Wilf Rosenberg and Tommy Gentles, was chosen for the Junior Springboks for a short tour of South Africa and Rhodesia. The idea was to use the junior team to develop future Springboks. The team played and won three matches. Ackerman received his national call-up to the Springbok side for the remainder of the Test series against the Lions.
He made his test debut on 20 August 1955 in the second Test at Newlands. His task was: ‘check the irrepressible Cliff Morgan’. Before 46,000 supporters, Ackerman crowned his test debut with his first test try to contribute to a 25–9 South Africa victory. Future rugby league stars Tom van Vollenhoven scored three tries and Wilf Rosenberg one. After South Africa lost the third test in Pretoria, Ackerman helped his team to avert a series defeat when he sent Daan Retief away for a critical try, converted by Roy Dryburgh, in the deciding fourth Test in Port Elizabeth. This was the start of a successful international career and won him a place in the 1956 team to tour Australia and New Zealand. On tour, Ackerman scored eight tries against provincial sides and the New Zealand Maori, including two tries in a match on at least three occasions. He played in four of the six test matches on tour.
In the period 1957 to 1958, he continued to play for WP in the Currie Cup and SA Rugby Board Challenge Trophy competitions and was part of the team that won the Board Trophy that year. Ackerman, however, did not make it into the national side for the French series in 1958. He, however, was selected for a combined WP, South Western Districts and Boland side which played the tourists on 30 July at Wellington. His team won 38–8 with tries by Giepie Wentzel, Hugh Gillespie (another future rugby league player), Alan Skene, Jan Pickard, BGV Lynn and Ackerman. Eight members of this team, including Ackerman, were then selected for the second test at Ellis Park on 16 August 1958. They were, however, not up to the challenge and South Africa lost the series 1–0 against the first French team to visit the Republic. This was Ackerman’s swansong in rugby union test matches.
Ackerman then moved to Johannesburg where he played for Wanderers RFC in 1959, Diggers in 1960 and Pirates in 1961. He also represented Transvaal in 18 games between 1959 and 1961 to conclude a very productive union career. Thereafter, he turned to rugby league. In July 1962, Ackerman signed for the Southern Suburbs club, a member club of the then-newly established Rugby League South Africa competition who in time went on to won the first South African Rugby League Championship. He died of a heart attack in January 1970 aged only 39.
By Hendrik Snyders