Durban — Springbok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk says he remembers when Malcolm Marx struggled to throw the ball into the lineout as a youngster at the Lions yet has grown into an “animal” for the Springboks.
On Saturday Marx will celebrate his 50th cap for his country in the Rugby Championship opener against New Zealand at the Mbombela Stadium and De Klerk is expecting a monster game from the hooker.
“Malcolm and I started playing when he was a youth coming through at the Lions,” said De Klerk, who has been restored at No 9 in place of Jaden Hendrikse. “His powerful ball-carrying ability and his strength over the ball were always there but he was not an accurate thrower when he started off.
“So he worked unbelievably hard on it and these days I can’t recall when he last missed a lineout,” De Klerk said of the 28-year-old Marx. “How he turned a weakness into a strength tells you about his work rate and professionalism on and off the field.
“Everybody loves Malcolm — he is a big teddy bear away from the pitch but once he puts the Springbok jersey on he becomes an animal. I am very proud of how he has grown as a rugby player and a person although I am annoyed that he has overtaken me with his Test caps,” the 34-cap veteran added with a laugh.
De Klerk says that Marx’s story of modest beginnings at the Lions to playing for South Africa is typical of this Springbok squad.
“A lot of the guys in this group really had to fight to get here after being written off as youngsters and had to work hard to get to the top, and we take a lot of energy from that.,” the 30-year-old said.
De Klerk is one of those players and he recalls well his humble beginnings as a Pumas player in Nelspruit. He was born in the town and played 56 times for the Pumas (2012-15) before moving to the Lions.
“It is kinda nice for me being back here in Nelspruit and I have had a bit of a giggle thinking back to some of the stuff I went through under coach Jimmy (Stonehouse),” De Klerk said. “And there is such a cool rugby vibe here in this part of the world after the Pumas won the Currie Cup.
“We pitched up for a signing session at 8.30 am on a Saturday morning at a shopping mall and there was a queue of hundreds of people. There is great excitement here and it is going to be full of rugby fans by Saturday — people are coming from all over and they are battling to find anywhere to stay.”
Turning his attention to the All Blacks, De Klerk said that the Boks’ experience of being in a similar position to the embattled Kiwis means they know exactly what to expect on Saturday.
“We know how it feels to lose two games on the bounce but that is when a great team stands up and wants to play,” the scrumhalf said. “All we can do is focus on ourselves and make sure all our stuff is good to go. We have put in the work and playing against New Zealand for South Africa... there is nothing more that you need when you run onto that field!
“Whatever the situation may be in your season, you know it is going to be your biggest game of the year and you have to pitch up.”
Springbok Starting XV: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (capt), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Willie le Roux