Lukhanyo Am, for a long time, has been a great player on the club level, being a complete star for the Durban Sharks franchise.
He possessed all handling skills I would expect of a brilliant centre, to the point that some did not even notice his missing middle finger on his right hand, and instead were awed as his ball skills lit up the park.
Here are several examples that displayed his multiple talents.
Playing against the Pretoria Bulls, he went off a Rob Du Preez pass and broke through the tackle, making a good few metres before finally being pulled down by Handre Pollard metres short of the whitewash.
Another example of this would be his try against the Cape Town Stormers. After the ball got wide and to the edge, he went off a teammate’s pass, slicing through and carving his way to the line through pace and agility.
Blessed with wonderful ball handling, his impressive ball skills have been instrumental in Sharks tries.
One example would be one of Sbu Nkosi’s tries against the Sunwolves. It starts with a line break and Am bringing himself in as a support player, before finally taking the ball and then committing the final defenders to release Nkosi on the edge for the young wing to score.
We have another little short chip over the heads of the defenders and then the regather by Makazole Mapimpi, with a pass back in the tackle, which Am picked up with one hand as it was inches above the ground. He sprinted away to score.
Another prominent example would be his table-turning try assist against the Hurricanes. He intercepted the ball, sprinting through the line for a good half of the pitch and many metres more. As Ben Lam closed him down, he did a basketball-esque flick of the ball over the top had a bounce and Mapimpi received the ball to skip away for a try.
(Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Big tackler in midfield
We have another example of his defensive prominence against the Jaguares. An opposition player attempted to run a diagonal, but Am grabbed the side of his jersey as he honed in on him, stopping him dead in his tracks.
Even before he entered the world stage as a first-choice Springboks centre, his talents were there to see. With his brilliant ball handling, pace and agility, he became a deadly combination of attacking talents. He had the ability to make line breaks, and also the ability spot gaps and put players away. Also, when he made line breaks, he stayed connected with supporting teammates to remain ever-ready to pass the ball off if need be. His quick hands were something that instrumented many line breaks and tries for the Sharks.
Recently, we have seen him bringing these sides of his game to the world stage of Test rugby, most prominently in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
His pace was very prominent in the clash with Italy. After an error was snapped up by Jake Polledri, it came with a great tackle from Handre Pollard, and the offload attempt was unwittingly caught by the slick handling of Lukhanyo Am. From that point, Am sprinted a good length of green pitch ground to cross the whitewash. He also got one big bump-off on Tommaso Allan, carrying the ball into contact after a pass from Faf de Klerk, and barrelling hard into the defence.
Against Namibia he had several other moments of brilliance. He got a try off Schalk Brits’ pass, sniping through the gap to seal with a try over the whitewash. He was extremely instrumental in Warrick Gelant’s try. It started with a line break from Am and a long run, using an inside-outside step on the Namibian defenders. As he was tackled, he put the ball away to Gelant for the young fullback to score.
Also, he had a display of solidness against New Zealand in their opener at times. A tackle on Richie Mo’unga was simply great, with him getting over the shoulder and sliding down to the legs to bring the flyhalf to the ground.
But none were more stunning than his World Cup final performance, in which he had a solid game and was instrumental in setting up the Springboks’ two tries of the night.
Mapimpi’s try came off great quick hands from Am with a draw-and-pass off De Klerk’s pass from the ruck.
(Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Malcom Marx on the edge put it away for Mapimpi, who took his line break well, before chipping the ball over the top. Am raced after it, sleekly regathering it and putting away a selfless, un-hesitant pass back to Mapimpi for the winger to score. Am could well have scored himself, and deservedly so – he created that line break and then used his handling to regather the ball. Instead he chose to pass it away to Mapimpi without hesitation, being a greater team player rather than just a showy star.
Cheslin Kolbe’s try was a mix of the Springboks’ reaction speed, ball handling and simply pure individual brilliance from Kolbe. It started with a big text book tackle by Marx on Henry Slade. Am snapped it up, popping it up to a teammate who put away a perfect spin pass to Cheslin Kolbe, whose dazzling agility saw him past the defenders, beating forwards with pace and stepping through the tackle of Owen Farrell to score. Each player played an equal part in this try, and like the previous one, it was a team try.
The Springboks ran a number for highly successful bomb kicks on the English, and Am chased these. He grabbed the ball up in the air, beating Johnny May and offloading the ball to Steven Kitshoff in the tackle, who continued to carry it forward, gaining territory for the Boks.
In the World Cup, Am brought his performances at the club stage for the Sharks to the world stage, and proved himself to be a world-class midfielder. As Siya Kolisi lifted the cup, amid the Boks faces was one man who was not only a champion of rugby, but also of life.
Few realise the struggles that some Springboks face. Am was rejected by five clubs, yet persevered to become a world-class Springbok. When he had the chance to claim his well deserved glory, he selflessly gave it away to Mapimpi.
Not only is Am a great individual player, he is also a great team player.