Part 2: Am – midfield maestro

What sets Lukhanyo Am apart? SIMNIKIWE XABANISA investigated by approaching experts and coaches in the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine.

READ: What’s in our latest issue?

Game Sense

Gcobani Bobo, ex-Springbok centre

We often talk about players having a lot of time on the ball. If you think about rugby IQ, what gives you time on the ball? Getting yourself in the right position, that comes from intuition, a feel for the game where you have an understanding of where you need to be to add value. The players who have time are players who get themselves in the right places where they can have depth perception, where they can spot how to take the ball to the line when the line is not coming at them.

That’s where you can pull the defender off then you can read whether to assist or play and understand when to temper off and having that calmness to think about execution without putting yourself under pressure. That’s what happens at centre. It’s about feeling where the hit is supposed to happen and whether you can buy yourself as much time as you can to dictate that timing, be it in attack or defence.

There are a lot of things to consider, but all of it happens without you having to think about it because you’ve got that game sense – and Lukhanyo has that. Lukhanyo has the skill set of most players, someone who can work magic under time and space constraints. He’s a player who doesn’t lose his head, a player who has the mental aptitude of staying in the moment and not letting it overwhelm him.

In terms of his ability to read the game, I’ll take you back to his game development as a loose-forward. Former All Black Murray Mexted was asked, how do you pick an openside flank? His answer was the guy who always wants to get to the ball. As a former loose-forward Lukhanyo can read the game a bit differently to other players because he has a nose for where the ball is going.

ALSO READ: Part 1 – Nienaber and Everitt on Am’s qualities


Adi Jacobs, ex-Springbok centre

When you play 12 or 13 the whole point is to create space for the guys outside of you, I see that in Lukhanyo. You can’t teach that because it’s in your DNA. He’s got that ability to fashion something out of nothing; not for himself, but for others. For me playing at 12 means you need to distribute, but unfortunately in SA we use that player as a battering ram.

Thirteen is a different story because you need to be quicker off the mark and in defence you need to read very well, which Lukhanyo does very well because he can read three guys running into his channel and make the right decision. I haven’t seen him play much at 12 so I don’t really know if he’s naturally an inside centre or outside centre.

Also sometimes it depends on who you’re playing with, but maybe the fact that one can’t say if he’s a better 12 or 13 shows what a good player he is.

Skill set

Phiwe Nomlomo, Sharks skills coach

When we talk skills people will talk about your catch and pass, your ability to kick, your peripheral vision, etc. ‘Luke’ is a bit of a freak, to be honest. He kicks equally well with both feet, if he’s in motion he’ll even chip with his left foot. But I think the one thing people underestimate is his ability to read the game, and that’s a skill in itself.

He’s a student of the game thanks to the amount of work he does off the field. That’s why he’s so good at identifying what the opposition’s going to do and why he gets the interceptions he does. Another skill he has is ability over the ball.

If you look at the greatest fetchers they have the ability to anticipate what’s going to happen. Sharks assistant coach Dave Williams talks about perception-action coupling, and if you add anticipation to that you get a guy like Luke. Suddenly you’re getting a centre, a leader, a flank who’s a genuine pilferer of the ball and a blindside-type flank who can come around the corner and smash people.

That’s why when you look at him you wonder what it is that he can’t do. He’s a quiet bloke off the field but his communication skills are such that he paints a picture the others can all understand quickly so they can make a decision.

I’d love to see if ‘Luke’ has a Sherylle Calder eye gym programme at home that he secretly works on because here are certain things he picks up in his blind spot that are abnormal for someone to be able to see. His peripheral vision is insane.

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Craig Lewis