Malcolm Marx has been the standout performer on the field this season for club and country. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
It’s been a long, cold winter for SA rugby.

Super Rugby has again done its job in reminding us that we aren’t as good as we think we are. Everyone bar the Lions was swatted away. All the pre-season posturing of the rest just looks sad.

The brightest development has been the visceral evidence of SA teams’ desire to play a faster-paced game reliant on skill rather than size and strength. The problem has been executing the strategy. Such change is hard won.

Arguably the single greatest highlight from a local point of view is the form of Malcolm Marx. SA rugby is awash with excellent players, but there’s daylight between Marx and them. He has elevated the hooker’s role to an art form, combining brute force with incredible technique and a bustling running game.

Several seasons ago his throwing-in was wobbly, but he’s since become the complete player. The Lions rotate their prop forwards and mix up their locks, but Marx is ever-present in the pack. Had he not missed the recent series against England due to a hamstring injury, something the tourists would have been grateful for, his name would have been the first scribbled in.

Boosted

The Boks had a decent time of it up front, but the inclusion of Marx would have boosted them immeasurably. He’s a big man  he weighs 119kg in his socks and scrums hard.

Malcolm Marx has improved into a tremendous player since his debut. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

Social media lights up whenever he plays, the general refrain being that he’s the best hooker in the world. It’s difficult to disagree.

His destructive work in the tight-loose verges on frenzied and his ability over the ball, getting in and ripping it away while somehow maintaining his stability, would make a jackal proud. His unnatural strength gives him an advantage which he uses to maximum effect.

Last week, against the Jaguares, he produced more running metres than anyone and even scored an intercept try. He is redefining what it is to be a modern front ranker.

Marx’s strength is rooted in his background as a water polo player at school in Johannesburg. The local scene is tough; Marx thrived, later transferring his talents to the rugby field where the nickname “Moose” soon stuck.

The Lions have a habit of freeing up their hookers to act as a fourth loose forward, as they did with Uli Schmidt and James Dalton. Marx thus has the freedom to act as a wrecking ball as much as he’d like, roving and cleaning rucks with the touch of a surgeon.

Comparisons with former Sharks hard man Bismarck du Plessis are inevitable and there are indeed similarities.

The intimidation factor is large in both, so too their ability to turn opposition ball over thanks to their primal foraging instincts.

We can thank Heyneke Meyer for the most important single act in Marx’s burgeoning career. He took one look at him as a 15-year-old loose forward and predicted that he would play for South Africa  if he switched to hooker.

The switch was made and Marx dedicated every spare hour to mastering the difficult art of hooking, scrummaging and throwing in. The Lions have one of Super Rugby’s best packs and Marx is at the heart of it, all power and restless energy.

He made his Super Rugby debut in 2014 against the Hurricanes, who had Dane Coles, reckoned to be the world’s best No2 at the time, in their ranks. Marx stood his ground.

Four years later, and the South African is the meneer. Given how the All Blacks have dominated the Springboks during the past decade, it is comforting to know that Marx  big, strong and menacing  won’t blink in the face of their tactics during the coming Rugby Championship. If he was still unformed and raw the first time he played against them, he is now hardened. He’ll be in their faces, mixing it up, mangling them.

When his teammates look across and see the destruction he wreaks, they’ll recognise a man worth following. For all the hype, though, he needs a career-defining run at international level, where it really counts.

The looming Rugby Championship would be the perfect place to lay down his marker.


Sunday Tribune

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