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Erasmus' unforgettable 'tackies' introduction to Lukhanyo Am

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Rassie Erasmus has paid tribute to the determination of Springboks talisman Lukhanyo Am to succeed in rugby, emerging from humble beginnings to this week being included on the four-man shortlist for the 2022 World Rugby player of the year award. The soon-to-be 29-year-old hasn’t played since injuring his knee playing against Australia in The Rugby Championship in August.

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However, such was his fabulous level of performance prior to that unfortunate setback that he was named along with Irish pair Johnny Sexton and Josh van Flier and Antoine Dupont of France for the award that will be presented to the winner this Sunday in Monaco.

It was December 2017 when Am made his international debut, coming off the bench for a short few minutes against Wales in Cardiff, but he went on to thrive once Erasmus took charge of the Springboks and wore the No13 shirt in six of his country’s seven World Cup title-winning matches in 2019.

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That glorious denouement was a far cry from the moment Erasmus first clapped eyes on the current Sharks centre when he was a rookie with the Border Bulldogs at Vodacom Cup level.

“He is just a really special player,” enthused Erasmus when invited at this week’s Springboks team announcement media briefing to share some thoughts on Am and his world player of the year nomination. “I don’t want to talk long about it but the first time me and Jacques (Nienaber) spotted him was when we coached Border at club trials and he just stood out.

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“I think he was playing with a pair of tackies. I don’t think he had boots on and we phoned an agent from there and said, ‘Who is this guy? He is not going to get the exposure’. Then moving to Kings and all over the place, he pushed right through to being nominated as one of the world players of the year.

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“It’s a pity he couldn’t showcase now at the end of the year what he can do to be fresh in the minds of the guys who will decide who is player of the year, but we are very proud of him and especially because he came from I wouldn’t say poor background or disadvantaged, I think he had to fight just really hard to get into teams and into systems and then on the field he is just a fantastic player.”

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