The Springboks boast a number of high profile players across the park at this stage, but possibly the most crucial two line up together at center, week in and week out. Damian De Allende and Lukhanyo Am have built an incredible partnership in the midfield and by the looks of it they're only getting started. Am is still young at 28, with De Allende slightly older at 30, both definitely have enough juice in the tank to carry the Boks through to the 2023 show piece though.
Lukhanyo is a player that didn't come through a prestigious rugby background. He never got the chance to play in Craven Week and didn't get the opportunity to show off his silky skill set at age group either. It was only after high school that he made his way into the professional side of the sport. Interestingly, Am started his rugby career in the engine room at lock.
Am made his debut in 2017 on the end of year tour and has amassed 26 test caps since then. Incredibly in only 26 tests, he has won the Rugby Championship, a British & Irish Lions series and a Rugby World Cup. There really aren't many players that can boast a record like that. Am is an incredibly player who is deceptively quick, but it is his sleek passing skills, hard hitting defense and work rate over the ball that have made him invaluable to the Boks. His role at 13 is crucial in the Boks defensive system as he is tasked with controlling the line speed and driving play in field to his jacklers.
Damian De Allende followed a different path to that of Am as he had a rapid rise through the rugby system down in the cape. Joining Western Province in 2012 and being included in the Stormers squad for Super Rugby. By 2014, De Allende made his Springbok debut against Argentina in the Rugby Championship. He boasts 58 test caps, being one of a number of Boks to have crossed the 50 mark this season. Damian boasts the same trophy cabinet as that of his midfield partner but is vastly more experienced.
Originally playing for Western Province and the Stormers, De Allende now ply's his trade alongside Springbok behemoth RG Snyman at Munster in Ireland. His power with ball in hand and those big leg drives have made him a handful for the opposition, causing many teams to deploy loosies into the midfield to quell the threat he posses if he trucks it up at 12. He is also excellent over the ball, managing to make a number of crucial poaches this year. He has truly come into some of his best form over the course of the last three years.
De Allende and Am, boast vastly different skill sets but that is what makes them such a powerful combination. They have now started 20 tests together in the Springbok midfield and are probably one of the first penned in ahead of the team announcement. I believe they have already superseded the once renowned De Villiers - Fourie center combo. Their ability to work in tandem is a great asses to the Springboks and provided the backline, but more importantly the defensive system, with key structure, but also deadly fire power.
In the 18 months left ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the Damian - Lukhanyo, 12 - 13 combo will be able to grow and develop even more, making them a vastly experienced and settled pairing for France in 2023. Barring injury, these two could easily prove the Springboks biggest asset on their quest to go back to back at the World Cup, I certainly think they can.
It has been a pleasure to watch them perform this year and Am's behind the back pass against the All Blacks was nothing short of magical. Any other Springbok with ambitions of cracking it into the midfield, will have their work cut out for them, and may just have to wait until 2024 for that chance. Whilst youngsters such as Simelane are exciting, they just don't boast the skill set that the incumbents do.