In celebrating the best rugby moments of 2021, ZELIM NEL remembers how Lukhanyo Am set the tone in the British & Irish Lions tour opener.
Springbok supporters were bullish but at least a little bit unsure of what to expect from their heroes in the three-Test series against the touring Lions. After all, the world champions had been on ice for more than 600 days since raising the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019, a period that ended with a six-try victory over Georgia in what turned out to be the Boks’ only warm-up Test prior to hosting the famous touring team.
History shows that the Lions drew first blood as South Africa surrendered a nine-point half-time lead to go down 22-17. But there were few traces of panic in the reaction to what UK scribes then celebrated as a mortal blow to the world champions, and much of that confidence was rooted in a moment of magic that Am produced three minutes after Nic Berry had first blown his whistle.
Hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie fed flank Courtney Lawes at the front of a Lions lineout just inside Bok territory and scrumhalf Ali Price spun the ball out to the backs as the tourists initiated a set-phase strike.
Flyhalf Dan Biggar skipped Robbie Henshaw to find his outside centre, Elliot Daly, at depth with Duhan van der Merwe lurking ominously on his inside and fullback Stuart Hogg presenting an outside option.
But where Henshaw had held Handre Pollard and Damian de Allende in check, Am blitzed out of the front line to arrive at Daly at the same moment as the ball.
Almost as though he’d watched the Lions rehearse this strike play over and over again, the Bok outside centre intentionally dog-legged the Bok line to shoot on Daly, and the gamble paid off handsomely.
With Mapimpi flying wingman, Am raced up and flattened Daly, his right shoulder pinning the ball to the Lions centre’s sternum. De Allende got in over the ball as the Boks flooded the tackle point to force a turnover.
Am’s supersonic linespeed followed by a monstrous hit had converted an early, attacking lineout for the Lions into a counter-attack opportunity for the world champions.
It was a moment of magic from the classy outside centre that reassured Bok fans the series was in good hands, and so it was.
TEST RUGBY IS BACK! 💥
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) July 24, 2021