Lukhanyo Am must build on his fine performance in the Rugby Championship opener when the Boks face Argentina in Mendoza this Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Am was one of the unsung heroes in the Springboks’ comfortable 34-21 victory over the Pumas last Saturday, with the hard-working midfielder completing a heap of work on defence, which saw him make 10 tackles and secure an important turnover.
Over the past few seasons, no player has unequivocally made that Bok No 13 jersey their own, although it can’t be forgotten that Jesse Kriel held down that berth in 12 Tests last year.
The 24-year-old did enjoy a solid Super Rugby season, but it’s clear that he has slipped behind Am in the national pecking order. Kriel is one of the players who has not made the trip to Argentina for Saturday’s clash in Mendoza.
When Rassie Erasmus was asked about the outside centre position last week, the Bok coach suggested that there wasn’t all that much that separated Am and Kriel, but confirmed that the plan was always for the latter to return to the Bulls.
Kriel is expected to receive another Bok opportunity later on in the Rugby Championship, but Erasmus is keen to have a closer look at Lionel Mapoe, who can also cover outside centre and wing.
Mapoe is expected to remain on the Bok bench for Saturday’s clash, while Am is set for his fourth Test start.
The Sharks centre will know that the likes of Kriel and Mapoe are hovering in the wings, but there’s no doubt that Am is the man in pole position to cement his place as the first-choice outside centre.
Alongside him, there should also be another opportunity for André Esterhuizen to showcase what he can add to the Springbok cause at a time when Damian de Allende is unavailable due to injury.
Esterhuizen enjoyed his best outing in Bok colours last Saturday, with the 24-year-old making 37m from 11 carries, while racking up nine tackles.
Although there aren’t many expected changes to the Bok backline for Saturday’s clash, there has been the suggestion that Elton Jantjies could be set to receive another starting opportunity at flyhalf.
Jantjies’ two previous starts under Erasmus have been in wet-weather conditions against Wales and England, but the good news is that the forecast suggests the weather will be warm and windless in Mendoza on Saturday.
The Boks are currently training in Buenos Aires after arriving in Argentina on Monday and will fly out to Mendoza on Friday to wrap up their preparations.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images