Hungry Lukhanyo Am back as Sharks welcome confrontational Connacht at the Tank
The Sharks have brought back one of their two-time World Cup-winning Springboks, Lukhanyo Am, for what is expected to be a confrontational United Rugby Champions (URC) battle with Connacht this weekend.
The winless Sharks play their first home game of the URC season against the Irish side at Kings Park Stadium in Durban on Saturday (5pm).
The Sharks have had a tough start to the campaign, losing all four games during their European tour and they will be eager to get off the mark and not disappoint, especially in front of their fans.
Am is the only Springbok player released to take part in the URC and will start at outside centre.
He was initially not part of the Boks squad for the world showpiece in France because of injury, but joined the team later as a replacement for Sharks teammate Makazole Mapimpi who was injured.
However, Am didn’t feature in any of the games in the World Cup and that is likely the reason he has been allowed to play.
As he has not played after being injured during a World Cup warm-up game against Argentina in August, Sharks assistant coach Joey Mongalo said Am is hungry for game time and they are confident his return will inspire the team to go all out against Connacht.
“Lukhanyo has been with us longer than the other Springboks. He has trained a few times, so he is quite connected to what we are doing. He is definitely going to add value,” Mongalo said.
“It’s great to have a Springbok with his experience. It’s about how quickly he can [gel] with the rest of the backs and the attack and defence to add value that we know he has.”
While the Sharks aim for their first win of the season, the men from Galway will be determined to return to winning ways after an away defeat to Edinburgh, the team coached by former Sharks boss Sean Everitt.
Before that, Connacht enjoyed a run of three victories on the trot against Ospreys, Glasgow Warriors and Ulster.
Mongalo said they have picked up a thing or two that helped Everitt’s team get the better of the Irish side that can be useful to them as well.
“We haven’t yet made contact with Sean, he is a beloved Sharks man, we all know that, and he did a lot of good work when he was here,” Mongalo said.
“But we took something from that game because if you have been to Galway, it’s a different type of field.
“So, you always play into the wind, against the wind, so they’ve found a formula that works for them at home in those first three games, so being away at Edinburgh allowed them to play more rugby than they usually play at home.
“That gave us a bit of a hint of what they look like with the ball in hand. Also, there was a new way of kicking [from Connacht]. The way they kick at home and the way the kick away from home is slightly different.”
The Sharks have already faced two Irish sides, Munster and Leinster, this season and came second on both occasions.
“The Irish sides are connected because the governing body gives an idea of how they should play. So, you always see similar things in all of them, but I would like to say Connacht are slightly different,” Mongalo said.
“They started well and won three out of four. They are quite physical for an Irish side. I think they are incredibly physical; they are confrontational.
“They’ve got the ability to play around you, but before they do that there's a sense that they can go through you. If you look at their centres, they are 1.8 (metres), 1.9, [tall] and they all weigh about 110kg. They are big boys.
“They won’t shy away from confrontational stuff. So, I will probably say they are slightly different from Munster and Leinster in the way they go about their business.”
Meanwhile, the Sharks confirmed Boks Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch are both nursing knee injuries. Mbonambi could be out the whole season while new signing Koch will be back after three months.
Sharks Team: 1. Ntuthuko Mchunu, 2. Dylan Richardson, 3. Coenie Oosthuizen, 4. Corne Rahl, 5. Emile van Heerden, 6. James Venter, 7. Phepsi Buthelezi, 8. Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 9. Cameron Wright, 10. Curwin Bosch, 11. Aphiwe Dyantyi, 12. Francois Venter (captain), 13. Lukhanyo Am, 14. Werner Kok, 15. Aphelele Fassi
Replacements: 16. Daniel Jooste, 17. Dian Bleuler, 18. Hanro Jacobs, 19. Jeandre Labuschagne, 20. Tino Mavesere, 21. Zee Mkhabela, 22. Boeta Chamberlain, 23. Rohan Janse van Rensburg
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