Currie Cup

Final: Am’s last push for Bok ticket

2017-10-26 13:23
Lukhanyo Am (Gallo)

Cape Town - When are we going to see some true midfield magic again from the Springboks?

It is a question almost undoubtedly worth asking as it is an area of the park that has appeared pretty poverty-stricken for cutting edge qualities in Allister Coetzee’s two-year tenure.

For a country that has produces such iconic centres as Mannetjies Roux, Danie Gerber, Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers, the present crop just seem on a well less premier league-type tier.

The incumbent alliance of Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel, in fairness, tick the box for commitment and industry but as a partnership they are yet to punch holes lethally enough through opposition defences to emphatically suggest they represent the long-term future there ... at least in tandem.

Others have been tried at centre since Coetzee took the reins from Heyneke Meyer last year, and also tended to come up short on the creativity and elusiveness fronts.

Their ranks include someone like Damian de Allende, who looked such a bright star at all levels up to the end of 2015, when the Boks were bronze-medallists at the World Cup, but has disappointingly flat-lined since and tended to be a bench presence at best subsequently.

All five of his 2017 appearances have been as a substitute, and not exactly bristling with “impact”, either.

Lionel Mapoe and Francois Venter were involved in the ill-fated end-of-year Bok tour in 2016, and neither set Europe alight although they were part of a broader set-up at the time struggling for identity, common purpose and confidence.

Lions stalwart Mapoe, over the course of a dozen international caps since the 2015 season, has struggled to emulate for South Africa the sumptuous lines and corkscrewing runs so frequently demonstrated at Super Rugby level.

Venter? At 26, the Cheetahs leadership figure might yet bounce back to demonstrate that he can, indeed, cut it at the very top, but has started three times for the Boks and all were in dispiriting losses on the 2016 Euro trek – to England, Italy and Wales respectively.

Against that backdrop of uncertainty, Bok supporters would love to see a new, freshening face come to the fore and on Saturday the lean but deceptively strong Lukhanyo Am - if not already right near the front of Bok coach Coetzee’s thinking - gets a last, high-visibility chance to remind that he’s the right stuff when he takes to the field at outside centre for the Sharks in the Currie Cup final against Western Province at his home venue of Kings Park.

Smart money suggests Am, 23, is already a shoe-in for the extended Bok party for the four-Test tour of northern climes to be named on Sunday, but if there happens to be some sort of touch-and-go element involved, then an assertive display in the showpiece could be the clincher.

After all, it is only in the closing rounds of this year’s domestic competition that he has returned to fitness after injury, so he has been gradually finding his mojo again; hitting some kind of encouraging peak in the final would be a timely development indeed.

The lanky-legged customer from King William’s Town, with his ability to slip out of tackles like a bar of soap and pleasing, unusual keenness to get his hands dirty over the ball at breakdowns - he banks some steals of the calibre open-side flankers and hookers more commonly do - seems such an inviting candidate to have in your midst for any winter mission north of the equator, where gains (and often triumphs) are eked out at close quarters.

A rip-roaring final against Province might be enough to see Am not only have to dig out his passport for the tour, but also become a compelling candidate for the No 13 shirt in the first challenge - the toughest, at least on paper - against Ireland in Dublin on November 11.

That said, there was enough sheer desperation, if you like, in the effort of the Serfontein-Kriel firm at Newlands against the All Blacks recently to suggest that pairing them again at Aviva Stadium wouldn’t be the worst call Coetzee and company ever made, especially if the going is slow and heavy.

But Am, with his “extra loose forward” sort of instincts, is knocking strongly at the door for a maiden Bok cap and a role in the match-day 23 for that clash - which could set a key tone for the entire mission - seems very feasible indeed.

That scenario may become quite irresistible if he illuminates the Currie Cup final, where he is the Sharks’ senior midfield man alongside even more youthful Marius Louw ...



15 Garth April, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Odwa Ndungane, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit

Substitutes: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Tristan Blewett, 23 Rhyno Smith

Western Province

15 Damian Willemse, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (captain), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.

Substitutes: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Werner Kok, 23 Dan Kriel

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    sharks  |  western province  |  currie cup  |  lukhanyo am  |  rugby


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