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Ulster on red alert as Springboks centre Lukhanyo Am set to return to help Sharks bare their teeth in Belfast


South Africa centre Lukhanyo Am will return to give the Sharks’ top-four mission a boost

South Africa centre Lukhanyo Am will return to give the Sharks’ top-four mission a boost

AFP via Getty Images

South Africa centre Lukhanyo Am will return to give the Sharks’ top-four mission a boost

The Sharks are set to arrive in Belfast later this month with one of their superstars unexpectedly in tow.

Lukhanyo Am, one of the real shining lights of last summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, will be available for the URC clash at Ravenhill on May 20.

The centre had been on a sabbatical in Japan this season but will be back with the Durban-based side earlier than had once appeared to be the case after his side the Kobelco Kobe Steelers, also home to Ben Smith and Aaron Cruden and coached by Wayne Smith, failed to make the play-offs.

“Lukhanyo will be back,” Sharks head coach Sean Everitt told reporters back in his homeland. “He finishes up in Japan next week and we are looking forward to having him back in the following week. We haven’t watched any of his games, but I have chatted to him on a weekly basis and he is in a good space and really enjoying the opportunity that he has over there.

“He is playing with international stars in his team over there and obviously being coached by really good coaches. We are looking forward to him coming home and sharing the knowledge that he has gained from there.”

His return will be a considerable boost ahead of the concluding fixture of the URC regular season. Both sides are already guaranteed a spot in the play-offs, and indeed could even yet face each other in the quarter-finals, with this fixture to be key in deciding which teams will enjoy home advantage in the last-eight.

The Sharks, the former side of Ulster favourites from yesteryear like Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller and Louis Ludik, have found a particularly rich vein of form in recent weeks, beating both Leinster and Connacht in the last fortnight.

Although they struggled early against Connacht, they stormed back in the second half and ended up with a wholly convincing 41-21 bonus-point triumph to keep their bid for a top-four place on track.

Indeed, Connacht flanker Conor Oliver said afterwards that he believes the Sharks, in their first ever season in northern hemisphere competition, are capable of going on and stealing away Leinster’s crown.

“They are a team capable of winning this (the URC), no doubt,” Oliver said. “They are 100% physical and there is not much between the Sharks and the others in the top four.

“Their power game is hard to contain and once their forwards get past phase three, it is really difficult to stop them.”

While they have beaten only Benetton and Cardiff in the northern hemisphere during this campaign, any side with the likes of Siya Kolisi, Ox Nche and Bongi Mbonambi up front will pose a physical challenge.

On course to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup for the first time, they were not eligible for European action this season so, like Ulster, will be idle until their trip to Belfast two weeks from Friday.

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Already, they are looking forward to it with Gerbrandt Grobler saying they will give Ulster their “best shot”.

“We’ve got good momentum and we really needed this win, especially with the log being super tight,” said the lock of beating Connacht.

“We had a good talk at half-time. We just didn’t fire a shot really in the first half. It was a game of two halves for us.

“All the way to Belfast now, which is going to be fun. We’ve got a bit of time to prepare well and give it our best shot.”

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