DURBAN - If there is one thing that the Argentines are famed for, other than their scrumming, it is the brutality at the breakdown. Led by the personification of Puma pride, captain Agustin Creevy, Argentina are masters of dominating that aspect of play. But, have they met their match in Malcolm Marx?
In all the debate that has raged about the need for specialist fetchers in the game of rugby, especially in a South African setting, there was always a caveat when a certain Bismarck du Plessis was playing at hooker.
The powerhouse, all-action hooker was a feared menace when it came to defending, as well as when he carried the ball, however, his work at the breakdown was always severely underrated.
Du Plessis was a master of poaching the ball off the opposition at rucks. His broad frame, limpet-like over the ball, won penalties and dissolved the opposition’s forays into the Springboks’ red zone.
Having Du Plessis in the team allowed the Boks the ability to also beef up their loose forwards as the traditional fetcher mould, of a Heinrich Brussow, or Deon Stegmann, for example, was superfluous.
Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger in his latter years, and equally so Marcell Coetzee in his earlier years, even Siya Kolisi, could all be employed in combination with Du Plessis, putting the fear of a breakdown battle in the opponents’ heads.
In recent times, since the days of Bismarck, one man has continued this menacing presence at the breakdown from the hooking position, and it is the Pumas captain Creevy. The former loose forward has many of the traits of Du Plessis, and especially when it comes to the breakdown.
Creevy is the current master of ball poaching in the tight forwards in world rugby, but it is not just his ability to work penalties or to turn over the ball; he is a menace at every breakdown he gets to.
Creevy works hard to slow ball down whenever he can, and it rubs off on his fellow forwards as the Pumas continue to grow their reputation around their fearless leader. However, while Creevy may have blossomed out of Du Plessis’s shadow on the world stage of breakdown dominance, there is a new shadow emerging from the South.
Malcolm Marx has caught more than a passing comment about his resemblance to the legendary Bok hooker whose boots he is looking to fill. Starting at his physical attributes, and moving on to his ability with ball in hand, Marx has been called Bismarck 2.0 more than once.
He has shown on a few occasions that he has a similar hunger for breakdown dominance. And indeed, the penny fully dropped last Saturday when Marx showed he could go toe-to-toe with Creevy. In the opening stanzas of the match in Port Elizabeth the Boks went a little too lateral and had too few penetrations.
As the game wore on, and the Pumas became more involved, Marx gave the opposition a taste of their own medicine as he won a crucial turnover - and also got penalised trying the same.
Creevy may have edged the young Lions hooker for turnovers, by one, but there is no doubting the master is feeling the presence of a forceful usurper in pursuit of being the premier all-action hooker.
In modern rugby, Du Plessis was, and still is, the benchmark for hooking excellence. He was not just another prop for scrumming, but he could scrum damn well; he was not just a ball runner a la Dane Coles, but could gain big metres; and he was not just a ruck-hitter in the old-fashioned sense, but he was always a menace there. It is these factors that Marx is looking to master.
Creevy holds the mantle as it stands, but the young upstart is looking to take that crown, and another encounter on the Pumas captain’s home ground will be a perfect place for the the ultimate showdown.