Lukhanyo Am admits he's not back to his best yet: 'Long-term injuries are tough'

Lukhanyo Am admits he's not back to his best yet: 'Long-term injuries are tough'

Springbok star Lukhanyo Am has admitted he's yet to reach the same level of performance he did prior to the serious knee injury he sustained last year.

South African fans will remember that the talented midfielder was at the top of his game for the Springboks last year, putting in a series of impressive performances that had many labeling him the best centre in the world, and led to a World Rugby nomination for Player of the Year at the end of the season.

But Am's stunning form was cruelly halted when he suffered a serious knee injury while playing against the Wallabies last September, ruling him out for the remainder of the season.

The 29-year-old returned to action three months later but his performances for the Sharks in this year's United Rugby Championship did not seem quite as electric.

And speaking to TimesLive's Mahlatse Mphahlele this week, Am admitted that he's not yet returned to top form, though he is confident that rejoining the Springbok setup can give him the match fitness and strength he craves.

"Long-term injuries are tough," Am said.

"I am not where I was before the injury. It's an ongoing process. What I am working on now is to get match and strength fitness back.

"It will be a test when I represent the national team because it is two different game demands.

"I will use the [Boks] camps to my advantage to prepare myself physically and mentally to be able to play to the highest standards."

While Am faces a challenge in regaining full form and fitness ahead of the World Cup, it's nothing compared to the battle his captain Siya Kolisi finds himself in.

Like Am, Kolisi also suffered a serious knee injury, but his was much more recent and the Bok captain is facing a massive task if he hopes to play a part in France later this year.

Am admitted that it would be a definite setback for the Boks if Kolisi does not make it back in time.

"It will be a huge blow to the team because Siya is an experienced player and captain who did it in 2019 by winning the World Cup," Am said.

"We need his experience going into this World Cup in France and we are hoping for the best for him, that he recovers in time and we have him at this World Cup."

Am was also asked about the recent news that Bok coach Jacques Nienaber would be moving on after the World Cup but was quick to point out that the Bok camp was not concerned about anything beyond the upcoming rugby season and their World Cup defence.

"We are focused on the job at hand, which is to prepare for the Rugby Championship and the World Cup. For some individuals it might affect them differently but, at the moment, the biggest thing in front of us is the World Cup and all our energies are on that," he said.

The Springboks head to France as defending champions yet - as so often happens - are once going somewhat under the radar, with the likes of France, Ireland and New Zealand getting top billing.

But Am is feeling confident about the Boks' chances, as the core of the team that lifted the trophy four years ago remains in place.

"With the group we have now, there is a lot of experience because most players who were there in 2019 are still here," he added.

"The challenge is that we have to defend the World Cup, but we are not the only favourites because there are teams that are in the top five on the rankings and that is going to make it a very interesting tournament.

"France at home are definitely one of the teams to beat and over the past two years Ireland have been playing amazing rugby and they are ranked number one. It is going to be an interesting World Cup, and I am excited about it.

"We can use the experience to our advantage because experience at big tournaments and in pressure games at times helps teams to push through. I think we are in the right space as a team.

"I hope we don't lose players in terms of injuries and we go to the World Cup and peak at the right time."

And what a massive boost it would be for Springbok fans if Am finds himself peaking at the right time along with his Bok teammates this year.