Springboks center hailed by ex-manager Nick Easter
Quietly, a chewing gum sensation from a South African east coast center is well on his way as a contender for World Rugby Player of the Year right now.
Fleet-footed, unbreakable in tackle but above all blessed with a massive rugby IQ, Springbok center Lukhanyo Am sets the standards for baseline play in the international game.
Born in a township just outside Kings William Town called Zwelitsha and brought up in a football crazy environment by his mother, Am missed all the traditional routes such as Craven Week or any age level international rugby. He was instead content with a childhood of looking through fences to watch elite schools play, his mother desperately trying to persuade him to play football.
Nonetheless, the center was rugby-focused – at U13 level he started as a lock before finding his feet in midfield, at Margate-based Gladiators Rugby Academy, attracting interest from Border Bulldogs and later being awarded a pre-season trip to Saracens. on the exchange program of the British High Commission for Saracens.
Signed with the Sharks in 2016
After graduating from this program (aimed at helping young players from disadvantaged backgrounds), Am signed a deal with the Sharks in 2016, the start of his journey to greatness.
Former England number eight Nick Easter spent a few years in the Sharks coaching staff and the brilliant center made a huge impression on him during his tenure there.
“Lukhanyo is arguably the best player I’ve ever coached,” he commented.
“What struck me the most was his personal desire to improve and learn – there’s not a part of rugby skills that he doesn’t want to understand and be able to perform. at the highest level and he has the natural athletic gifts to be able to do just about anything on a rugby pitch.
His work with the Sharks saw successive Super Rugby quarter-finals in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and Am’s quiet leadership was a driving force behind that – so much so that he replaced the iconic Tendai Mtawarira in as skipper in 2019 – a decision that reflected the respect his teammates showed him.
Easter continued: “Am is a very soft spoken man – no histrionics, just calm, concise words. He’s an icon of hard work who sets the standards that others aspire to – one of those guys who would never ask a teammate to do what he wouldn’t do himself.
“Above all, his communication on the pitch, whether in attack or defence, is a vital cog in both Sharks and Springbok rugby – he is the eyes, ears and voice of every backline he plays in. Guys respond to him – he knows his stuff – and his ability to inspire confidence in others and improve the players around him is absolutely unrivalled in my experience.
Lost Bok against Wales in 2017
Am won his first cap on the bench against Wales in 2017 and, once Rassie Erasmus took over in 2018 and recognized the centre’s leadership and playing skills, he quickly became a fixture in the midfield. from Bok, scoring his first try against Argentina in Durban. in 2018.
Erasmus has repeatedly commented on the Am effect – the organizational and distribution skills he brought to the Springboks and his ability to go from defensive kingpin to attacking genius in the blink of an eye and above all, concentration details how Am approaches each part of his game.
Am himself commented in an interview with The Citizen in February this year: “I focus on my goals, which monitor my performance and improve my game every time I’m on the pitch.
“As soon as the season starts with the Sharks, my goal is to be the best I can be and then transfer that to the national team. But I don’t look too far because of the different challenges we face today and there is always the risk of injury.
“I just work to be the best I can be. I’ve always been like that; I focus on my performance and doing the right things well. Make sure everything is in place to do so. This has worked very well for me in the past.
“I take one game at a time and then focus on the next one. I analyze myself, where I am in my game and where I want to be. I’m just trying to tick those little boxes.
Easter fondly remembers the great moments that Am was able to create with pleasure.
“A big part of Lukhanyo’s skill is unlocking the ability of the players around him – things like his ability to unload on contact or his option taking, which is always perfect – these are the gifts that create opportunities for others around him.
“But individually he will hit big plays that will set the benchmark – his try in the block against the Bulls will always stay with me – deep restart, Am sprints to jump and challenge, catches, hits a grubber and collects to crash – a game-changing moment that lasted about two seconds from start to finish,” chuckled Easter.
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Am’s performances in this year’s Rugby League have been on another level as he matures into one of the best outside centers the game has ever seen. His performance on the wing in the loss to the All Blacks was nothing short of amazing. against Wales in July, he was always the man who made the difference in a tight series and who will forget his divine assist in the Rugby World Cup final to unleash Makazole Mapimpi for the first try of the South Africa in its three finals?
At present, the lowly Eastern Cape center is arguably the most important player in the Springboks’ Green and Gold. If he continues his trajectory and maintains the standards he has set for himself lately, by the end of the season he could very well challenge Antoine Dupont for the theoretical title of best player in the world.
Take advantage of it while you can – talents like Am only come once in a lifetime.
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