Lukhanyo Am is comfortably the best outside centre in world rugby. Still just 27 years old, he could go down as one of the game’s all-time greats, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
There’s something about the way Am plays the game that suggests he operates on another level. Indeed, the way he reads play is almost as if he is an avatar in a rugby Playstation game.
He’s also the sort of player who contributes in ways that so often go unnoticed amid the chaotic scenes of high-intensity Test rugby.
For example, press play below and keep an eye on Am in the selected section of this analysis video.
Even as the Lions look to bring some innovation to their play, Am reads it like a book. With his eyes always firmly fixed on the ball and not the man, he floats through the defensive line.
Without any direct contact, he is still a complete nuisance to the Lions. His initial rush first forces Jack Conan into a slightly inaccurate pass, with that forcing Robbie Henshaw into a juggle.
Am continues to track across on the heels of Chris Harris, who throws another weak pass to Stuart Hogg. By this time, the Bok defence has the attack completely covered.
Am, who has crabbed across the width of the field, then forces Stuart Hogg back in field, and while completely off balance still assists Faf de Klerk in the tackle.
This is what Am does, time and time again.
Particularly at a time when the Boks are without Duane Vermeulen, who is their chief defensive organiser among the forwards, the importance of Am’s ability to disrupt the Lions’ attacking lines has been simply masterful throughout this tour.
No one will quickly forget his monstrous defensive hit on Elliot Daly in the opening minutes of the first Test, and it set the tone for proceedings in the most emphatic manner.
Am’s journey from an unheralded but talented player down in Border, to now be regarded as a peerless performer in the global game, is a story that should be shouted from every rugby rooftop.
‘Peerless’ is the correct word because I can’t imagine there is one pundit who wouldn’t pick Am in the No 13 jersey for any hypothetical World XV at the moment.
Four northern-hemisphere nations have combined for this Lions series, and yet they’ve struggled to settle on an outside centre who can deliver the impact required when lining up opposite Am.
And the frightening thing is that Am is still just 27 years old. He only has 17 Test caps to his name.
There is enough evidence to suggest Am is currently playing the best rugby of his career but, then again, he was just as influential at the 2019 World Cup. Should he stay injury free, the next few years could produce an extended period of Am performing at the peak of his powers.
He is a player with a remarkably low error rate. Big-match temperament seems to run in his veins. He’s also a natural leader and the obvious successor to captain Siya Kolisi.
Am is a class apart, but there’s plenty more to come, and that is a prospect about as enticing as you can get.