Lukhanyo Am will lead the new generation of Springbok Rainbow Warriors in his first Test start against England.
Am, whose Test experience was limited to just the final three minutes of the Springboks’ last Test against Wales in 2017, has been the form centre in South African rugby for the past two seasons.
He was a surprise omission from the national set-up in 2017, but new Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus had no hesitation in selecting Am and entrusting him with the starting responsibilities.
Erasmus consistently, before and after his appointment as Springbok coach, had singled out Am as a player with pedigree and also international possibilities.
Am and Sharks inside centre André Esterhuizen have been formidable as a combination in Super Rugby. A week ago, it was Esterhuizen who shone on his Test debut, and Am is expected to make a similar impact.
Am, on attack and in defence, is the most complete of the South African midfielders. He is a physical player who fronts up in contact situations, but he also has the soft touches and subtle nuances in being as much a creator as a finisher.
His support play is among the features of his game, and he has a natural instinct when it comes to picking his running lines. He is a player who isn’t predictable, and he certainly isn’t one-dimensional.
Erasmus has been a revelation in his player identification because he is the first Bok coach since Jake White in 2004 to so liberally invest in youth and in form. Erasmus has been inclusive when it comes to recognising the value of experienced veterans, but he has been very strategic in which of the older generation he has selected.
The coach’s philosophy is to construct a squad capable of succeeding immediately, and also one that represents the next five years of Springbok performance.
He is developing both at the same time, and that is why he blooded 13 new caps against Wales in Washington DC.
There will be another three in the starting line-up against England and Am, outside of a three-minute tease in Cardiff, will see England as more of a debut.
Sharks winger S’bu Nkosi, Lions winger Aphiwe Dyantyi and Bulls lock RG Snyman will take the number of new caps in two Tests beyond 15.
Erasmus isn’t afraid to play the new kids. It’s the only way, he says, he’ll know if the player is good enough at Test level. They either swim or they don’t, but the responsibility as a coach, he says, is to create a situation that gives the player every possible chance of swimming.
Siya Kolisi captains a team that is the most reflective of South Africa’s Rainbow Nation in the history of Springbok rugby. Kolisi, the 61st Test captain, is the first black player to lead South Africa in a Test match.
Erasmus has also picked an all-black front row, which is another historic first for the Springboks.
This is a Springbok squad that finally speaks to the rugby aspirations of every South African, regardless of colour or culture. There is a new generation of player that Erasmus has introduced to wear the jersey and to reframe the Springboks’ game.