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Am takes aim at Stormers

todayFebruary 16, 2024 15

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Hollywoodbets Sharks vs Emirates Lions. Lukhanyo Am of the Hollywoodbets Sharks
BKT United Rugby Championship, Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban, South Africa – 06 Jan 2024

Sharks captain, Lukhanyo Am, believes the Sharks are ready to kick-start their United Rugby Championship campaign as they prepare to host the Stormers in Saturday’s big derby clash.

The Durban-based outfit currently lie bottom of the table, with just one win from their opening nine league matches.

But it has been a different story in the EPCR Challenge Cup where they won their pool and progressed to the last 16 as top seeds, setting up a home tie against Zebre Parma.

Skipper Am feels they can use that cup form as a springboard as they look to turn around their fortunes in the URC.

“Unfortunately, it has been a slow start for us in the league, but I am really happy with where we are at the moment,” said the centre.

“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.”

He says the team’s energy towards the URC is massive.

“We will take a lot of confidence out of how we have performed in that competition. There is definitely hope for the future. There is 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,” he adds.

“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.”

They will be looking to do just that when they take on their South African rivals from Cape Town at Hollywoodbets Kings Park this weekend.

Lukhanyo Am and Jaden Hendrikse of the Sharks combine to stop Hacjivah Dayimani of the Stormers during the 2023 United Rugby Championship game between the Stormers and Sharks at Cape Town Stadium on 30 December 2023 ©Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

“Hosting the Stormers at home will be very big for us. We are looking forward to it,” said Am.

“There should be a big crowd for that one. All derby games in South Africa are quite massive.”

On the personal front, the 30-year-old is happy to be back fit and playing again.

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 No 13 for last summer’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.

After suffering 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 group 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.

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. “I was playing a different role, preparing the boys, which was really good,” adds Am.

“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 feeling really 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.”

Written by: Ntsako Mukhari

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