Lukhanyo Am is desperately unlucky to have missed out on Springbok selection, but his time will surely come, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Last week, I wrote that young winger S’bu Nkosi was destined for higher honours. The same has to be said for his teammate Am, who has arguably been the Sharks’ most consistent backline performer throughout the year.
With this in mind, perhaps it’s time we duly recognised another talented young player who offers further reason to be excited by the future prospects in South African rugby.
Lest we forget, Am is no one-season wonder. Last year, he proved to be one of the most influential players for the Kings when he joined the Port Elizabeth-based side on loan for their Super Rugby campaign.
Upon returning to Durban, Am slotted straight into a youthful Sharks backline for the 2016 Currie Cup season, where his game continued to evolve, with his natural instincts on attack and gutsy defence setting him apart.
He carried that form over in this year’s Super Rugby season, where he continued to stand up to the challenge of facing top opposition, while he was duly rewarded with a call-up to the Boks’ 31-man squad to face France in June.
Yet, as fate would have it, Am sustained a cheekbone fracture in the Sharks’ final pool game before the June international break, and had to be withdrawn from the Bok squad.
It was a cruel blow for Am, and even more so when he was omitted from the Boks’ Rugby Championship squad through no real fault of his own.
There can be no argument that Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel have done enough to nail down their starting places in the Bok midfield, but legitimate questions can be raised over the squad selection of Damian de Allende and indeed Francois Venter ahead of Am.
The evidence will suggest that Coetzee has opted rather for the experience of De Allende, and perhaps felt Am would be best served gaining further game time in the Currie Cup (as opposed to predominantly carrying tackle bags for the Boks).
Yet, the fact remains that Am has to be regarded as one of the unluckiest players to have missed out on Bok selection. The good news, though, is that he continues to show meaningful signs of smashing down that national door.
I’d suggest that opening may even materialise by the time the Boks head off on their end-of-year tour, should Am continue to maintain both fitness and form.
As it is, his statistics (according to AllOutRugby) certainly make for pleasing reading so far this Currie Cup season. He currently stands with 69 ball carries to his name (rank three), seven linebreaks (rank six) and three tries (rank four), while he has also won three turnovers (rank three).
Indeed, it’s not only Am’s elusive footwork and willingness to attack the gainline that has won plenty of plaudits, but also ‘uncoachable’ elements such as his ability to read the game and contest at the breakdown, which have added to his all-round contributions.
Am’s tackling, distribution and kicking accuracy remain a work in progress, but he cannot be faulted for his overall work-rate and bravery on defence.
He also offers value with his ability to feature at inside or outside centre, although signs suggest that the former Border Bulldogs player is best-suited to the No 13 jersey.
When I chatted to Am earlier this year, the 23-year-old suggested that he couldn’t harbour any hopes of featuring for the Boks unless he continued to consistently produce his ‘best rugby’ for the Sharks. That box is currently being ticked. The next step can only be higher honours.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images
You may also like