AUDIO: Boks' big picture
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Springboks are on the verge of clinching their first Rugby Championship when they face Argentina on Saturday in Salta.
The Springboks are on top of the Rugby Championship standing and a bonus-point win over Argentina, irrespective of what happens between All Blacks and Wallabies in Perth will mean that Rassie Erasmus’s team will lift the title.
South Africa last won the title in 2009 when it was still the Tri-Nations.
However, despite all these factors, inside the camp the Springboks have remained adamant that their sole focus is on preparing for the World Cup, and not winning the Rugby Championship.
One man who will certainly be part of that trip to Japan is Lukhanyo Am. The outside centre was incredible for the Sharks during the Super Rugby campaign and has also produced noteworthy performances in the Springboks jersey.
Jesse Kriel has been the front runner when it comes to outside centre pecking order. However, since Am’s presence in the squad things have gradually changed.
Am’s form and his defensive display especially during the 16-all draw against the All Blacks in Wellington has shown the importance of the Sharks centre in the starting line-up.
His linespeed and decision-making were the key components in stifling the All Blacks’ usually clinical backline play and managed to shut down the opposition which included Sonny Bill Williams with ease.
It’s all these attributes that could see him start ahead of Kriel if he remains fit.
Fronting the media, Am revealed that Saturday’s fixture is just another challenge en route to the ‘big picture’ which is the World Cup.
“It is a great opportunity for us to win the Championship,” Am said, adding: “But we do not want to look too much into it. It’s another Test that we are looking to build on. The big picture is actually the World Cup – so, we’ll just go through our processes.
“Having said that there is pressure, but it’s only good pressure.
The centre battle will certainly be intriguing as Am could be paired with either Damian de Allende, Frans Steyn or André Esterhuizen against the Los Pumas’ Matias Orlando or Matias Moroni and first-choice inside centre Jeronimo de la Fuente.
Commenting on the opposition Am said: “The Argentinian side is quite a physical side,” Am added. “They are a team that keeps possession quite a lot. They link up well between their forwards and backs. It will be an exciting game for us to encounter in terms of playing against Argentina at their home ground.
“I think De la Fuente and Orlando are both tough opponents no matter who starts. But, it’s the game, not man for a man, so whoever plays it will be challenging,”
Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick echoed the 25-year-old’s sentiments, adding: “It is going to be a tough game, especially having been to Salta before and we lost [in 2016]. They are a very, very good side. If you look at the balance in their team, they have got a good balance. Their backs complement their forwards in the way they play.
“If you look at centre De La Fuente, he is one of the best and has been playing very well. Having an experienced guy like [flyhalf Nicolas] Sanchez in the side, he controls the game well. It is really going to be tough, especially as their forwards are very physical.
“Playing in Argentina is another challenge. We know they are passionate about what they do and representing their country. We know the emotions behind the team playing at home,”