Springbok centre Lukhanyo Am greets fans on his arrival to his hometown of King William's Town. Photo: ANA

KING WILLIAM'S TOWN – After missing out on the Springboks' Rugby World Cup victory tour recently, the residents of King William's Town in the Eastern Cape turned out in their thousands on Saturday to give a hero's welcome to one of their own, Springboks centre Lukhanyo Am.

The streets of King William's Town were filled with jubilant fans as the rugby star's motorcade moved to his home township of Zwelitsha. The parade began from Breidbach with Am seated at the back of convertible BMW sedan, and moved through the town to Steve Biko Centre in Ginsberg, before it headed to Zwelitsha.

Although there was no William Webb Ellis Trophy to show off or other Springbok team mates present, rugby supporters kept on referring to the combination of Am and wing Makazole Mapimpi, which resulted to the first Springboks try during the Rugby World Cup final. 

Celebrations took place at the OR Tambo Community Hall in Zwelitsha with Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane also joining residents. 

Addressing the crowd, Am said he was inspired to see so many people coming to welcome him. "It is very special to be at home with all the support of the community, from the elders to the children. This is really inspirational and I'm enjoying it," he said. 

Am's mother Zukiswa Am said she was pleased at what her son had achieved and how he had conducted himself as a person. Speaking to media during the celebrations, she said: "I encourage him to focus on what he wants in life, to put his mind on what he wants in life, to be disciplined and respect other people."

She said she never thought her son would be a successful rugby player. "I tried to discourage him from pursuing rugby as a sport because he's got a small body size. I advised him to choose between cricket or soccer, because body size didn't matter, but he wanted to play rugby and that's what he chose," said Zukiswa. 

His development coach, Thobile Mtya, said Am's strength was discipline and he was not selfish. "Since 2013 in rugby developments, Am assisted lots of wingers to score tries even when he was in a position to score. Just as we saw recently in the [Rugby World Cup] final, he did what we groomed him to do in the department and passed the ball for Mapimpi when he could have scored."

Am's childhood friend, Nqaba Tladi said they used to get into trouble during their school days, because they used to practice touch rugby during break times. 

Many fans used the opportunity to take selfies with their local hero, while others asked him to sign their shirts and books. Am also expressed a need for rugby development from grassroots levels in many townships.

"I wish to see young people believing in their dreams, whether your dream is in sport or studying, don't let obstacles stop you from what you want to achieve. My motto in life is, if it has to be, it's up to me."

African News Agency (ANA)