In the fifth of a six-part series, SA Rugby magazine’s writers pick their world team of the year, based on performances throughout 2021.
Never before in the history of the professional game has South Africa boasted a centre pairing so unchallenged for their status as the best in the world. Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am are not only the best in their respective positions, but they complement each other perfectly.
De Allende offers the Boks momentum on tap and in 2021 he often took the heat off an undersized back row by leading the team in carries. And Am is the vault door that shuts down rival attacks through great anticipation, and sparks the turnover attack with sniper-like composure.
No centre pairing has come close to Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am for the past two years, dating back to the 2019 World Cup. In 2021 – South Africa’s first full Test season post-RWC – the duo again proved that they are world rugby’s midfield standard-bearers.
There is one centre pair that has stood head and shoulders above the rest. Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am started 11 Tests together this year and were a key element of the Springboks’ success in 2021.
There is never much written about Damian de Allende, because there is little flash to the way he plays. But there is almost never any error either. For me, there is no better specialist 12 than De Allende in 2021, and while he may not play with the same flamboyance of his counterparts, his consistency and impact at inside centre has been unmatched in world rugby this season.
Lukhanyo Am and De Allende form the perfect centre pairing and, arguably, currently the best in the world. World Rugby Player of the Year nominee Samu Kerevi is brilliant, but he played in comparatively very few Tests in 2021. Am’s influence in the Springboks’ series win over the British & Irish Lions as well as their victory over the All Blacks simply can’t be ignored.
Damian de Allende has almost become a victim of his own success this year. The regularity with which he delivered fantastic performances has led fans and pundits alike to misinterpret his excellence for normality. No other player has been as consistent, reliable and imposing. De Allende remains the crux of South Africa’s attacking system and would stride into any international side.
Lukhanyo Am is a picture of serenity on the rugby pitch. The calmness with which he operates is a trait shared only by the greatest in the game. He glides with the assured pace of a man who has time at his mercy. Playing rugby against Lukhanyo Am in 2021 is like playing chess against a grand master – he is always three moves ahead.