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AJ Lam's shift to No. 12 and his 'peaceful state' approach to rugby

By Ned Lester
AJ Lam scores for the Blues. Photo by SANKA VIDANAGAMA/AFP via Getty Images

Injuries are an unfortunate part of rugby, but so often they present an opportunity to someone who has been itching for just that, a chance to show what they’re made of. AJ Lam has had an interesting journey in that respect.

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Since joining the Blues in 2021, the now 25-year-old has had opportunities all over the backline, and while there’s no doubt Lam has impressed wherever he’s played, he’s never managed to lock down a specific jersey.

Lam made the inaugural All Blacks XV squad in 2022 as an outside back, earning selection through dynamic play down the sidelines. Now in 2024, he’s having perhaps the most impact of his career since an injury to Bryce Heem saw the No. 12 jersey go vacant.

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The Lam family is known for its physicality and rugby pedigree, with AJ’s brothers Ben and Jack enjoying stints with the Hurricanes, also following in the footsteps of Uncle Pat donning the colours of Manu Samoa. Pat Lam now coaches the Bristol Bears, having one All Blacks cap and 36 Samoa Tests to his name as a player.

AJ’s strength has seen him thrive in the Blues midfield alongside Rieko Ioane, chewing through over 20 tackles so far in the playoffs and ensuring the team loses no punch in the absence of Heem.

“There’s a lot more contact in it, a lot more ball handling but I think my type of game is to just try my best to get something going for the team, whether that’s putting my body on the line for a tackle or a carry, whichever it is I’m happy to do it for the team,” Lam told RugbyPass ahead of the Super Rugby Pacific final.

Lam credited his midfield partner Ioane, as well as No. 10 Harry Plummer for helping him feel comfortable and confident in the new jersey.

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“It is kinda new to me but being able to play in my own skin is just the perfect thing.”

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Key to Lam’s preparation for the big game is a healthy dose of fun and relaxation while nailing his nutrition and getting through plenty of studying for the game.

When it comes to game day, he feels most at ease when the work’s been put in during the week and he knows the team’s key messages inside and out.

“During the week I’m nice and relaxed as always, and then when coming into the game, just trying to get it as clear as I can, knowing and being able to do my job for the team and knowing they’ll do theirs.”

When in the heat of the moment, some players may resort to little in-game rituals to help them stay grounded and present, but Lam knows he plays best when he’s enjoying himself and so prioritises that enjoyment factor.

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“My way to process things is by doing things that put a smile on my face, staying relaxed as much as I can. Knowing I’ve already done the work during the week, I don’t really need to think about too much until we’re actually on the field.

“Keeping in that peaceful state is perfect for me.”

That peaceful presence is invaluable in the big games when the pressure piles on, and a sold-out Auckland crowd is expected to be in full voice for the final.

The 44,000-strong chorus of Blues fans and the Chiefs die-hards driving up over the Bombay Hills will set a mighty tone for what is set to be another famous night for rugby at Eden Park.

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Comments

6 Comments
b
by George! 31 days ago

Definitely an interesting project to keep an eye on, so far so good.

D
David 31 days ago

All that’s required now is for Plummer to be transformed into a modern day Grant Fox for the Blues to have that old team back again. Dull but hard to beat.

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