Time to get ball to outside centre, Boks!

Lukhanyo Am
Lukhanyo Am

Cape Town - He wears the No 13 jersey ... and it is often regarded as an unlucky number.

Whatever the thoughts on that front by the superstition-minded, Springbok midfielder Lukhanyo Am will be hoping for personal positives aplenty in Saturday’s World Cup tussle with minnows Namibia at the City of Toyota Stadium (11:45 SA time).

Perhaps some unintended good fortune has already gone his way: in a vastly-altered Bok line-up for this one, Am is one of the only two survivors (along with Makazole Mapimpi) from the “first team” who went down 23-13 to New Zealand last weekend.

He may well only be playing, too, because of a minor hamstring issue affecting current back-up outside centre Jesse Kriel, who is likely to be ruing sitting out this opportunity to wriggle his way closer up the pecking order against modest opponents who should leak a hatful of tries.

The 46-cap Kriel, of course, was once a relatively staple figure at thirteen for the Boks in keynote matches, including for the lion’s share of matches at the last, UK-staged World Cup in 2015 where South Africa ended as bronze medallists.

More recently, though, Sharks schemer Am - the same age as Kriel, 25 - has been the preferred main pick by Rassie Erasmus in the channel.

The man from King William’s Town, who will take his tally of starts for the Boks into double figures (though an 11th appearance overall) against the Namibians, should thoroughly enjoy this fixture, too, if the heavy favourites establish a bridgehead quickly and then stay routinely on the front foot.

Erasmus has picked a team highly geared toward a fluid, adventurous approach and that should go a long way to helping Am subdue any lingering doubters around his frontline status.

During 2019 thus far, the slim but deceptively strong player has delivered routinely solid rather than notably punch-packing performances at No 13.

He has a fine, occasionally under-rated rugby brain but that grey matter, regrettably, has primarily been put to use in his compelling enough devotion to timing and execution in the Boks’ rush-defence systems, where he has seldom been found wanting as an individual.

But he must have to suppress a sense of frustration sometimes, as well, given how desperately few ball-in-hand opportunities come his way from first-phase/structured play: the Boks’ strong emphasis on the box-kick strategy from Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf is a major influencer of that.

The policy also muzzles flyhalf Handre Pollard and inside centre Damian de Allende, to a lesser degree, but it is Am who most conspicuously “catches a cold” a lot of the time in an offensive sense in his wider berth, unless broken-play opportunities suddenly come along.

So there is a certain injustice to anyone suggesting he is not offering sufficient thrust in his position; the same would very likely apply to Kriel or whoever else was favoured there due to strategic policy.

The vast majority of Am’s caps thus far have come against traditionally premier opponents of the Boks (the All Blacks three times, England twice, Wales in formidable Cardiff, just for example), meaning a general leaning toward conservatism; more pronounced playmaking and “expressionism” has tended to be in pretty short supply for him.

That could all change for the better on Saturday, where the vast expectation will be that the Boks post a minimum of 50 or 60 points.

It will be educative to monitor, into the bargain, just how effective Elton Jantjies at No 10 and, alongside him at centre, Frans Steyn, are at helping maximise Am’s ability to manufacture unexpected running lines and squirm through holes like a cork twisting elegantly through a five-year-old bottle of cabernet sauvignon.

One thing the hefty Steyn, on his first start for South Africa in seven years, is good at is sucking in defenders because of how hard he is to bring to ground with his 110kg, 1.91m frame, while still able to offload cleverly in contact.

Am could become a gleefully productive beneficiary … watch this space on Saturday?



15 Johan Tromp, 14 Chad Plato, 13 JC Greyling, 12 Peter John Walters, 11 Lesley Klim, 10 Cliven Loubser, 9 Eugene Jantjies, 8 Adriaan Booysen, 7 Muharua Katjijeko, 6 Thomasau Forbes, 5 Tjiuee Uanivi (captain), 4 Johan Retief, 3 AJ de Klerk, 2 Louis van der Westhuizen, 1 Desiderius Sethie

Substitutes: 16 Obert Nortje, 17 Andre Rademeyer, 18 Johannes Coetzee, 19 Prince Gaoseb, 20 Janco Venter, 21 Wian Conradie, 22 Helarius Axasman Kisting, 23 Johan Deysel

South Africa

15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Schalk Brits (captain), 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Steven Kitshoff, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Eben Etzebeth, 19 Siya Kolisi, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Damian de Allende, 23 Cheslin Kolbe

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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