Find me a 13 in world rugby better than Lukhanyo Am , and find me a player better than him in South Africa at the moment. Am is currently South Africa’s most impactful player, and his performance both at Test and domestic level puts him in rare class of consistency among world rugby’s elite, writes Oliver Keohane.
There are very few players who are capable of bouncing between the pressure of Test level to the physical rigour of a domestic season and maintaining the standard of performance expected of them. But aside from the physical demands of what has effectively become a year-round rugby season, there is something to be said of the ability of a player to switch on mentally for a domestic season, after coming off a few months of Test rugby. Conversely, to handle the step up from domestic to Test level is an equal mental effort that many do not handle with such ease.
Lukhanyo Am is not many, he is in the special class of player that is seemingly incapable of a poor performance either at Test or domestic level.
Am’s trajectory has been such that where he was lauded initially for his understated organisation of defence and low error-rate, public perception has widened to appreciate his incredible attacking flair, leadership skillset and domineering presence on n the field. While Am is consistently one of the best at Test level, it has become glaringly obvious in both the Currie Cup and URC that he is often the most impactful player on the pitch.
Lukhanyo Am was a late Test find, so to speak, but since his first selection it has become obvious that the Springboks have found the solution to the outside centre issue that Jacques Fourie’s absence left for many years. Am has started in 25 of his 26 tests, of which he has won 17. He’s contributed 25 tries, including one against the British & Irish Lions, which was nominated for World Rugby Try of the Year. More importantly perhaps, have been those that he has assisted… Look no further than Mapimpi’s World Cup final try against England, and Damian De Allende’s in the Springboks win over the All Blacks last year, which started with an incredible offload from Am.
Am has won a British & Irish lions series, won a World Cup and won a Rugby Championship. He has done that in under 30 Tests. Those statistics are phenomenal, and they given added weight by the fact that Am was an integral figure in every one of those accomplishments.
What has been incredibly refreshing and inspiring, in light of his superb three years with the Springboks, is his immediate impact as Sharks captain since the domestic season kicked off. In December Am helped the Sharks to a win over the Bulls, with a stunning intercept try, and in his most recent game ran in the most ridiculous of tries against the Bulls again, straight from the kickoff, to help the Sharks secure another win over them.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt, after their most recent win, lauded Am as the best centre in the world, and I doubt there are many arguing with him. I certainly am not, and his consistency for both the Sharks and the Springboks is a rarity and a commodity.
There are days where we wonder how Lukhanyo Am makes rugby look so 𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙮 😳
Unbelievable skills from the Sharks captain against the Bulls in the Vodacom #URC.
Here's that incredible piece of play with 𝙓𝙝𝙤𝙨𝙖 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙨 🎙️ pic.twitter.com/bvbtfnklmA
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) February 13, 2022