Lukhanyo Am reflects on rollercoaster year and 'special' World Cup triumph

Lukhanyo Am reflects on rollercoaster year and 'special' World Cup triumph

It's been a time of mixed emotions and mixed fortunes for Lukhanyo Am over the past 12 months.

Towards the end of 2022, the man from the Eastern Cape of South Africa was shortlisted for the World Rugby Player of the Year award and viewed by many as the best centre on the planet.

Having been a key figure in the Springboks winning the 2019 World Cup, he looked certain to take a similarly pivotal role in their bid to defend the trophy, having been the first choice number 13 for last year's Rugby Championship.

Yet, as fate would have it, he wasn't to play a single minute in the global tournament out in France as the Boks retained their crown.

Having suffered an untimely knee injury in a warm-up game against Argentina in August, he missed out on squad selection.

The door re-opened when he was called up as a replacement for the sidelined Makazole Mapimpi after the pool stage, but he wasn't to be involved in any of the knock-out games, with Jesse Kriel having nailed down the outside centre berth in his absence.

Am then headed back to the Sharks to share in their struggles as the Durban-based side plummeted to the bottom of the United Rugby Championship (URC).

So it's been a challenging time for the 30-year-old midfield man, yet he is still able to look back on the World Cup triumph with fond memories and to the future with real optimism.

"Being part of it was special," he says, reflecting on the success in France.

"I was playing a different role, preparing the boys, which was really good.

"I definitely enjoyed watching us win the World Cup. It was very special for the team and for the country.

"But I am really happy being back on the pitch, being fit and able to perform for the Sharks.

"I am really feeling confident with my knee, with my fitness and my game. So I am really happy with where I am at.

"I am looking forward on building and I think I am in a good space."

The 35-cap Am returned to action with the Sharks in mid-November, coming in to skipper a team that has found life in the URC difficult this season, with just one win from their opening nine matches leaving them bottom of the table.

But it's been a different story in the Challenge Cup, where they have won their pool and progressed to the last 16 as top seeds.

Commenting on the fluctuating fortunes of his side, Am said: "I have enjoyed the captaincy, it's just unfortunate it has been a slow start for us in the league, but I am really happy with where we are at the moment.

"I think the Challenge Cup can definitely kick-start our season. Our confidence is growing.

"We haven't been doing really well in the URC, but we could almost zoom in towards the Challenge Cup. It was a new competition and a fresh focus and we can build from it.

"We will take a lot of confidence out of it.

"There is definitely hope for the future. There is a massive improvement.

"Even in the league games that were not going our way, we were displaying good performances. It's just we didn't get the results.

"Now it is starting to stick, we are starting to convert, we are starting to grow as a team. It's really looking good for us. Hopefully, we will build and get more wins under the belt."

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