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Ken Borland

Sharks will miss Am, their provider of beautiful magic on the field 0

Posted on April 11, 2022 by Ken

Springbok centre Lukhanyo Am is not only the Sharks’ captain but he has been the provider of numerous moments of beautiful magic on the field, so wing Sbu Nkosi acknowledges the team are certainly going to miss him against Scarlets in Durban on Friday night, but they have confidence the large hole he leaves will be adequately filled.

Am has left for Japan for a lucrative two-month stint with Kobe Steelers, meaning he will miss the Sharks’ next seven United Rugby Championship matches, returning in time for the last game of the round-robin phase, away to Ulster on May 21.

“It would be very difficult for any team in the world to lose Lukhanyo,” Nkosi said on Tuesday. “But we have very capable replacements and they are learning quickly.

“But it’s a huge loss for any team, Lukhanyo has exceptional quality and the ability to produce some great moments on the field when they are really needed.

“We will take time to adjust, but if each player brings 10% extra then that will more than make up for Lukhanyo’s loss.

“In terms of the captaincy, Siya Kolisi has played a leadership role since he arrived, he’s been very influential and involved. He’ll bring the same energy now, he’s just got the authority of the captain’s title now,” Nkosi said.

The Scarlets have travelled from the rain and temperatures of less than 10° of Llanelli to Durban perhaps expecting the weather to be a bit milder on the coast than it is currently in a place like Limpopo. But the temperature will be pushing 30° in Durban this week with humidity of 85%.

“It’s not gonna happen!” Nkosi laughed when asked about the potential for cooler weather now that summer has entered its last month. “It’s still very hot and humid and the ball is very slippery.

“That’s just how it is and I expect that on Friday night as well. We’ve been training in that, we are moulded in heat and our coaches have us training when the sun is at its highest.

“We want to use the humidity and heat to our advantage. Scarlets are flying from the cold to extremely hot weather.

“But it does not matter where they are placed on the log [12th], that does not always reflect the quality of a side. We ourselves were in a totally different place on the log three weeks ago, so we will approach them with respect,” Nkosi said.

Kolisi confident that Sharks culture is still budding 0

Posted on February 24, 2022 by Ken

For most observers, the Sharks rugby squad would seem to already have a special team environment going, representing the demographics of the country and, at the same time, leading the pack in terms of performance on the field and in the boardroom. But Springbok captain Siya Kolisi is confident that their culture is still budding, the best is yet to come.

Kolisi joined the Sharks a year ago amidst much fanfare and, even if his international commitments have meant he has not played as many matches for them as he would have liked, he has clearly settled in well and is contributing in a big way.

As the man who has driven so much of the highly-successful new Springbok team culture, Kolisi is ideally placed to comment on how the Sharks are building a new environment as well.

“Every sporting culture has a past that you have to take into account,” Kolisi said at Kings Park during a media weekend. “We’re still working towards something brilliant here.

“You have to acknowledge the past, you can’t change it but you need to learn from it. You need to have the conversations and understand what gets people going.

“Like with Eben Etzebeth, who was my first White friend. I love him as a person and we love each other’s families. So we have braais together but on some days we’ll go to the Chesa Nyama.

“It’s about being comfortable in your environment, but sometimes what is important to one person is not so much to the other. It doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for what you believe in,” Kolisi said.

Kolisi’s Springbok team-mate Lukhanyo Am is the Sharks captain and, as one of the most likeable and talented players around, he has had a key role in growing a successful culture at Kings Park.

“When you’re driving a culture, having a good environment off the field is nice too. We want to maintain high standards on and off the field.

“We try to keep the environment pure, not just me but everyone. Fortunately we have managed to get it right and keep the standards high,” Am said.

And then six months ago came the dreadful civil unrest in Durban that had the areas around Kings Park cowering behind barbed wire, using civilian patrols to protect themselves against the waves of looting and destruction. It was surely the greatest test of the Sharks’ culture.

“Last year was worse than the craziest scene you’d see in a movie,” Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee said of the rioting. “It was such a test of our culture and we stood together.

“We’re trying to grow an inclusive culture here, both in terms of lifestyle and our community, and we’ve managed to grow in uncomfortable spaces, like Black Lives Matter.

“There’s not going to be any conflict if you talk about an issue like that, but there’s guaranteed to be conflict if you don’t talk.

“I don’t think we have our team culture dead right yet, it’s a thing that lives and evolves. A player could come into the culture tomorrow and not use the right language or not be accepted, and then we won’t get the performance side right,” Coetzee said.

Despite his playful side Am is serious about being the Springboks’ defensive organiser 0

Posted on October 18, 2021 by Ken

Lukhanyo Am has a sense of gravitas in his bearing and is the defensive organiser of the Springbok backline, but one gets the feeling that inside that sturdy 98kg frame there is a playful youngster who just wants to throw the ball around and show his considerable skills.

But Test rugby is serious business and Am reiterated the statements of other members of the Springbok camp this week when he said they have to avoid falling into the trap of trying to play too much rugby against the All Blacks on Saturday, while also ensuring they are full of energy on defence.

“We created a lot of opportunities but we just didn’t convert because we did not execute properly. We had a great start to the second half, but soon we were behind again and there was scoreboard pressure. It felt like we were chasing the game or trying to rush things. And then the passes just don’t stick, you look a bit flustered, but it’s purely scoreboard pressure.

“We are fully focused though on bouncing back and rectifying the mistakes of the previous two Tests. If we stick to our processes then hopefully we will get the result. Defence is also one of our strengths, but last weekend we lacked a bit of energy. We don’t need to change anything in our plan, the missed tackles were just individual errors and not the system’s fault,” the 27-year-old Am said.

The outside centre scored South Africa’s only try last weekend against Australia, getting on the end of scrumhalf Faf de Klerk’s neat grubber in the 42nd minute. It gave the Springboks the lead (17-15) for the first time in the match, but they were the last points the visitors would score in Brisbane.

Saturday’s Townsville Test promises a really interesting midfield battle. Rieko Ioane first broke through at international level on the wing and David Havili played most of his rugby at fullback for the Canterbury Crusaders. They have been fill-ins at centre for the likes of Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown, but have certainly put themselves in the mix to continue together as New Zealand prepare for the 2023 World Cup.

Am and De Allende have built a formidable partnership through winning the Rugby Championship and the World Cup in 2019 and beating the British and Irish Lions earlier this year. They were regarded as the leading combination in world rugby, but their mediocre showings over the last two weekends suddenly saw former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains describe them as  being “simply not up to Test level”.

Really?! Either the 75-year-old Mains has not watched any other Springbok games over the last two years or dementia is setting in.

Am & De Allende fitting together as seamlessly as an old married couple 0

Posted on September 23, 2021 by Ken

Lukhanyo Am and Damian de Allende are like an old married couple fitting in so seamlessly with each other in the Springbok midfield that it’s easy to forget that they have only started 15 Tests together as a combination.

“South Africa is blessed to have had great centres and we now have to take over that responsibility. I feel like we’re doing a good job, but we’re always striving to get better. I’ve been playing with Doogz for just over two years now and we feed off each other. We’re getting experience together and learning all the time. We always want to keep on our toes,” the laconic Am said this week.

Barring the absence of the injured Cheslin Kolbe, South Africa will field their World Cup winning backline in their Rugby Championship Test against Australia on the Gold Coast on Sunday. An inexperienced Wallabies backline has lacked composure, making poor decisions, in their recent games against the All Blacks.

They have a 21-year-old flyhalf in Noah Lolesio, although stalwart utility back James O’Connor could make his return from long-term injury off the bench. Reece Hodge is tipped to come in at fullback and earn his 50th cap, while another older player, Samu Kerevi, has been impressive at inside centre.

But their other centre options ae 22-year-old Len Ikitau, who only made his Test debut this year, and Hunter Paisami, a 23-year-old who has only played a handful of Tests.

This Springbok generation is certainly in touch with their female side when it comes to nurturing young players and Am, who made his Test debut in 2017, said team environment makes the difference in the tough world of international rugby.

“As a new player, it’s definitely a huge step-up compared to domestic or franchise rugby. So it’s really nice to come into a group with a lot of experience, it makes your job easier, having to go from training camps into Test matches. Helping the new guys is one of the shared responsibilities of this group.

“The Wallabies have got a balanced backline though, with experience and a couple of new guys. But inexperience means nothing, you can never underestimate the rookies or try and use that against them. Australia are currently playing very good rugby and they’ve just been unfortunate not to get the results,” Am said.

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