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'Get paid Lionel Messi money': Springbok centre deserving of riches

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images)

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Outside centre Lukhanyo Am has been one of the best defenders in the game since becoming the number one option for the Springboks during the 2018 June test series against England.


The Sharks midfielder has flourished under Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber’s high pressure system, where Am’s talents in contact and over the ball have been critical for the Springboks.

He set the tone for the Springboks in the opening British & Irish Lions test by putting a heavy shot of England centre Elliot Daly, a tackle that former players suggest had put the Lions into a shell for the rest of the series.

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Handre Pollard speaks about criticism of Springboks playing style
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Handre Pollard speaks about criticism of Springboks playing style

He was at it again in the Springboks second test over Argentina, coming up with a miraculous try saver on the goal line to steal away a certain try for the Pumas.

WIth time up on the clock the Pumas had a break down the left touchline by Juan Martin Gonzalez. Am began the pursuit but then switched over to cover the inside pass when the Springbok cover defender looked to have Gonzalez covered.

The inside pass bounced off Santiago Carreras’ shoulder, allowing Am to snatch it and save the would-be try.

Am was described as ‘the world’s best 13’ that ‘deserved to play in Europe and get paid Lionel Messi money’, after his form over the last month has continued his stellar 17-test career.


Another described the ‘absolute lynchpin in defence’ as an early contender for World Player of the Year award after his Lions series and first two games against the Pumas.

Once part of a two-centre tandem with Jesse Kriel, Am has become an 80-minute player for the Springboks in 2021. He played all 240 minutes against the Lions, before being rested last week.

Back in the top side for the second Pumas test, Am put another 80-minute performance and was still making big plays in the last period of play.

Despite Am’s save, the Pumas got another chance to score in extra time when they received a penalty after the Springboks continued to play on.


Kicking to the corner, the Pumas mauled down to two-metres out before barging over through Pablo Matera three phases later.

The Springboks were in search of a third try that would have given them the three-try bonus point in the Rugby Championship, but ended up conceding one at the other end.

“We weren’t disappointed to concede the try,” said head coach Jacques Nienaber after the game.

“Maybe ten years ago I wouldn’t have said that, but we were going for the bonus point try and we told the guys to go for the big defensive reads and take chances.

“If we had got the bonus point try it would have been worth it. We were in a position where we could go for it, so it wasn’t a risk.”


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