Lukhanyo Am warns Springboks: Argentina keep possession a lot
The competition for places in the Springbok midfield is red-hot at the moment ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
But one man who is probably assured of a ticket to Japan is Lukhanyo Am. The Sharks centre was one of the stand-outs in Super Rugby, and has continued his good form for the Boks in the Rugby Championship.
Am’s ability to organise the defence and make big hits was one of the major reasons why the South Africans largely shut down the All Black attack in the 16-16 draw in Wellington recently.
But the 25-year-old from King William’s Town is also an ever-present threat with ball-in-hand. He is able to take on defenders and get his pass away, which is why he would be equally comfortable at inside centre.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus, though, has used him mainly in the No 13 jersey, and that is where he is likely to line up for Saturday’s title decider against Argentina in Salta (9.40pm SA time kickoff).
The visitors will know exactly what they need to do to clinch the trophy, with the All Blacks facing the Wallabies in Perth earlier in the day.
They will hope just a win is enough, and that they won’t need to claim a bonus point as well.
That would be tough to achieve against a Los Pumas outfit that went down narrowly, 20-16, to New Zealand a few weeks ago in Buenos Aires.
But again, Am rolled out the usual line from the Bok camp this week that the main goal in 2019 is the Rugby World Cup, not the Rugby Championship.
“Here in Argentina, it’s always a tough game. But from our side, we prepped based on what we’ve seen in the previous two Tests. So, ja, looking forward to the Test,” Am said from the Argentine capital on Tuesday.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to win the Championship. But we don’t want to look too much into it. It’s another Test that we are building on – the big picture is actually the World Cup, because it’s a World Cup year. So, we’ll just go through our processes.
“It is kinda more important because it is a World Cup year, as we are prepping for the World Cup. That is what we have been working on.
“There is pressure in every Test we play. Going into this game, we have a chance of winning the Championship. But if there is pressure, it’s only good pressure.”
Am will be a key figure in the midfield battle, where the Argentinians have some lethal strike-runners in Matias Orlando and Matias Moroni, one of whom normally line-up outside the first-choice No 12, Jeronimo de la Fuente.
Am could have any of Damian de Allende, Frans Steyn or André Esterhuizen on his inside, but was determined not to get involved in any talk of a duel with the Los Pumas centres.
Bok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick added that flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez has “massive experience” that could change the game, while the Boks “know the emotions” of facing a Los Pumas side in Argentina.
“They’re (De la Fuente and Orlando) both tough. Even though we play opposite each other in the game, it’s not man for man. Whoever we will play against, it’s a tough opponent,” Am said.
“The Argentinian side is quite a physical side. They’re a team that keeps possession quite a lot, and they link up between forwards and backs.
“It will be an exciting game for us to encounter, against Argentina on their home ground.”
Erasmus will name his team on Wednesday.