CAPE TOWN – We all thought Malcolm Marx had sorted out his lineout-throwing problems this year.
The Springbok hooker boasted a lineout accuracy stat of close to 90 percent ahead of the clash against the All Blacks in Albany on September 16, so good was he in the set-piece against France, Argentina and Australia.
But then Sam Whitelock stomped on his parade. The lithe All Black No 5 spooked the young buck Marx at the North Harbour Stadium, so much so that the 23-year-old even missed the mark when the Kiwis didn’t compete in the 57-0 demolition.
It was from the very first lineout that the rot set in. Marx appeared nervous when cleaning the ball, and told caller Franco Mostert to “wag, wag” (wait, wait) with his codes, with both teams already lined up.
Then we saw the Boks putting on a dancing show – up and down the line they went in a whiz of confusion, and Marx spun the ball way over the top of Mostert.
Yes, the All Blacks also lost their first throw on the night – Uzair Cassiem rising timeously to tap the ball to the Bok side – but they didn’t have many problems after that.
It was similar to Marx’s struggles a year earlier in Christchurch when he came on as an early second-half injury replacement for Adriaan Strauss.
And the mastermind behind it all is Whitelock. Life can’t get much better for the 28-year-old at the moment, as he led his beloved Crusaders to an eighth Super Rugby title this year, and with the All Blacks already crowned Rugby Championship winners.
He has also taken over from Victor Matfield as the best lineout exponent in world rugby.
So we asked him on Tuesday at the All Black team hotel, ahead of Saturday’s return clash against the Boks at Newlands, if he in fact maybe got access to the Bok lineout calls before the Albany game?
“It would be quite nice to get the calls! But it just shows that it doesn’t matter what any team is doing, it’s how they’re prepping,” Whitelock said.
“You’ve got to prepare yourself individually, and we’ve had a good look at it myself, and not playing last week, I spent a bit more time trying to work out how can we have a better plan, different ways of doing it, to have better results.
“And that’s right across the board, looking at forwards, set-piece and phase play. We’re always looking, and no doubt they’ll be doing the same, looking at us and trying to work out how to play against us with much reward.”
To help out Marx and the Boks, we did our national duty and straight out asked Whitelock what his secret was, which may be causing Marx to shiver when he looks down the lineout tunnel.
Whitelock, though, gave little away...
“Oh, you can have a look at my book if you want! I think there are a number of ways of doing it, and what Victor (Matfield, who always spoke about speed across the ground being the key) has said is spot-on as well.
“You have to be able to adjust every week, in terms of the team you’re playing, and if you have to learn. You can’t just stick with one thing.”