Part 1: What sets Am apart?

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

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Few things give a glimpse into the World Cup-winning Sharks centre’s laid-back demeanour and insouciant approach to the game than his tendency to chew gum during matches.

Coupled with his quietness, it’s a method that has led many to underestimate what a tough and gifted competitor he is. Here we take a look at the all-round skills that help him sneak up on the opposition.

Temperament and Leadership

Sean Everitt, Sharks coach

His commitment and dedication to the Sharks made his captaincy role a no-brainer: he’s a World Cup winner and he inspires the young players around him to give of their best. 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.

Although they had no say in who was going to be captain, he was a popular choice because there was a huge roar in the team room.

From a leadership point of view he’s always calm. He really has a good rapport with referees. Our relationship with the referees and the on-field manner in which we dealt with them throughout the Super Rugby campaign was great, and Lukhanyo had a lot to do with that. He’s a very laid-back individual, but it doesn’t mean that he’s lazy.

He’s able to be calm because he prepares so well for games. When you prepare like that you can be calm because you know the plan so well it’s in you, so there’s no need to panic.

When you look at Lukhanyo’s performance, the one word that sticks out is ‘consistent’. Maybe he’s got more flair than this particular guy but he reminds me of the All Black centre Conrad Smith. What makes both these players really special is they have a very low error rate and yet they’re highly effective on attack.

When you are in the outside channels, with the space you’re trying to create there, the decision-making is very similar to that of a flyhalf, where you to pit three attackers against two defenders.

You need to know when to pass, when to carry and when to put a kick through, and Lukhanyo gets those decisions right all the time. With regards to what we call character and temperament, some people have it and others grow into it. If you look at Lukhanyo’s age when he came into senior rugby, some people thought it was late.

But I think because his pathway took a bit of time it stood him in good stead as far as his temperament is concerned. Guys with temperament are far and few between, but Lukhanyo’s certainly got that. We saw that in the closing stages of the World Cup final.

Intelligent Defence

Jacques Nienaber, Springbok coach

When we started working on our defensive system with the Springboks, Jesse Kriel was in a system which employed similar tactics under John Mitchell at the Bulls, so he had been introduced to it a lot earlier.

But the first ‘raw’ guy who got to grips with how we wanted to work defensively was Lukhanyo. He was fresh in terms of working with the system, but within two to three weeks he started getting it right.

In the past a 13 would have gone up on his own in a rush defence with nobody on his outside, having a wing come up with them might have been a little problematic at first because it’s something they’re not 100% accustomed to. But having the wing on his outside probably empowers him a little more.

What makes Lukhanyo such a good defender is that he’s aggressive, he’s got a competitive attitude, has a great work rate and has a demeanour and personality where there are no ‘ifs and buts’ with him.

If you ask him to do something he gets on with it. It probably helps that at 1.86m and 97kg he is not a small guy, he’s pretty much in the same mould as Jaque Fourie.

*This article first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!

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Craig Lewis