Lukhanyo Am’s commitment to continue plying his trade in South Africa will only strengthen his case to be considered as a future Springbok captain, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Siya Kolisi only turned 29 years old in June. There is every chance he will still lead the Springboks through the next four-year cycle and to the 2023 World Cup. That in itself is a highly compelling prospect for the 50-Test cap superstar.
However, there is no doubt the Springboks will want to consider leadership-succession planning in the years to come, particularly while managing the game time of Kolisi.
Vermeulen played a massive leadership role at the World Cup, but he is now 34 years old.
As alternatives, there are certainly no shortage of leadership options for the Springboks. There’s Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and, of course, Handre Pollard.
The 26-year-old is well known for the role he has played in supporting Kolisi as a captain, and is one of the leading contenders to continue in a frontline leadership position when the Springboks require it, but Pollard has just been ruled out of the Rugby Championship due to a serious knee injury.
There is every reason to believe that Lukhanyo Am is another name that will become very much part of the conversation related to backup captaincy options.
Earlier this year, the 26-year-old was named the Sharks’ new captain, with coach Sean Everitt providing insight into the popularity of the decision when he described how the roar in the team room nearly blew the roof off.
In the latest SA Rugby magazine, Everitt provides further details of Am’s style of leadership, which is quite aptly epitomised by the centre’s relaxed habit of chewing gum while out on the field.
‘He’s not an outspoken person by nature, but his quiet confidence instils a sense of calm and assuredness in the people and players around him,’ Everitt commented.
‘From a leadership point of view he’s always calm … he’s able to be calm because he prepares so well for games on the weekend. When you prepare like that you know the plan so well it’s in you, so there’s no need to panic.’
Despite leading the Sharks to the top of the overall Vodacom Super Rugby standings before the season was suspended in March, Am then became one of the players who was targeted by overseas clubs when SA Rugby enforced a 21-day contractual exit window during lockdown.
Yet, he rejected this offer out of hand, and recently it was officially confirmed that he had signed a contract extension through to 2022.
Make no mistake, Am’s decision to continue playing his rugby in South Africa is a major plus factor when it comes to consideration for him to fulfil a leadership role at Springbok level.
It means Am will remain readily available for Springbok training and preparation camps, and will not need to wait for a ‘release’ from an overseas club prior to international competition.
For Am, this is just the start of his leadership journey but, similarly to Kolisi, he appears to be a captain who commands respect from his peers through his composure and temperament. He leads by action, while his laidback nature allows for a natural rapport with referees.
In short, there are plenty of factors in Am’s favour as a leader, not to mention how his world-class play has made him an automatic first-choice selection.
This is not to say Am will be captain tomorrow. The Boks are blessed with leadership options and Kolisi will remain at the helm for the foreseeable future, while Pollard (when fit) is likely the next in line.
But when the World Cup-winning skipper is unavailable, and more specifically when it comes to long-term succession planning, Am has all the attributes of a worthy captaincy candidate at the highest level.