Lukhanyo Am was outstanding for the Springboks in 2021 and his Man of the Match performance upon returning to domestic rugby was just further affirmation of his class and consistency, writes Oliver Keohane.
Lukhanyo Am, ever-understated as he went about being one of the most impactful players in the Springboks side, was also responsible for some very memorable moments this year. To name a few; His monster, momentum stopping hit on Elliot Daly during the British & Irish Lions series, his try against the British & Irish Lions for SA A (which was nominated for try of the year), and his no-look, out-the-back offload to send Damian de Allende over the try line in the Springboks victory over the All Blacks.
But Am’s appeal to many is the calm consistency that characterises his performances, be it for club or country. Am played in 12 of a possible 13 Tests for the Springboks in 2021, and his defensive organisation, eye for an intercept and pin-point catching and passing allowed for a safety net at 13 in the sense that not much got past him, nor did much trouble him in pressure situations.
Am’s return to domestic rugby saw him instrumental in a 30-16 win for the Sharks over the South Africa’s strongest side of the last year, the Bulls. Am was awarded Man of the Match, and his intercept try from just outside his own 22 proved pivotal in putting the Sharks ahead and shifting the momentum to take them to victory.
It has come to be expected though, that Am is either a star performer or the one putting out fires while his team – be it the Sharks or Springboks – are struggling to cope with pressure.
Rugby World magazine included Am, alongside Eben Etzebeth and Cheslin Kolbe, as one of the top 20 rugby players in the world at the moment. There is little doubt that any body would argue that, and Am is a rare case of a very understated player getting the recognition he deserves from his country and the requisite respect from others.
It may be hard to believe, but Lukhanyo Am has only 26 caps to his name. He has a lot of rugby left in him, and his trajectory has only been up since debuting for the Springboks in 2017. With Damian de Allende at the peak of his powers too, having passed 50 caps this year, South Africa’s centres are nicely looked after for now.