JOHANNESBURG - A hamstring injury will keep SA’s 2017 Rugby Player of the Year, Malcolm Marx, on the sidelines for no less than six weeks, meaning he will miss three crucial Super Rugby matches for the Lions and also probably all four Springbok Tests next month - against Wales and England.
It is a big blow for the Lions, but more so for the Boks and new coach Rassie Erasmus, who has a three-Test series win against Eddie Jones’ England in his sights. Here rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen highlights the men Erasmus may now consider to fill the huge gap left by Marx’s absence
Bismarck du Plessis: There is uncertainty around the 33-year-old’s availability due to his contract with Montpellier, but with 79 Test caps behind him and because of the way he plays, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Bok boss to give him a call. A real hard man, with a physical presence and an ability to do what Marx does - and that’s win ball on the ground and carry strongly over the gainline - he would be a welcome addition to the Bok pack for the England series.
Chiliboy Ralepelle: For a man once considered a future Bok captain, who led the Junior Boks in 2006, the now Sharks man never quite reached the heights everyone expected him to hit. He has been around the Bok set-up for years but only amassed 23 Tests, maybe his time is now.
Bongi Mbonambi: The 27-year-old has been part of the Bok set-up for some time now and should be the automatic replacement for Marx, but a burst appendix on the eve of the Super Rugby season has sidelined him up to now. The Stormers man hasn’t played any rugby recently and is expected back towards the end of this month. If he can get up to speed quickly, he could come into contention for the first England Test on 9 June.
Adriaan Strauss: The 2016 Bok captain retired from international rugby after a disastrous first season for then coach Allister Coetzee, but the 32-year-old had hinted he would make himself available again if needed by Erasmus. Well, he may just be a wanted man right now. Probably the best thrower of a ball into a line-out, but does he really want to step back into the Test cauldron? He has been one of the form men for the Bulls in recent weeks.
Akker van der Merwe: Ralepelle’s Sharks colleague, “the angry warthog”, was invited an “alignment camp” so he, too, has been thought of as a potential Bok player under Erasmus. A fiery character who adds plenty of pace and grunt in the loose. The big question is, will he be the man the Boks need at hooker to beat England? He’s certainly someone to consider from off the bench.
Ramone Samuels: It’s surprising how many players leave one union for another and all of a sudden their careers soar. The 23-year-old Stormers man is a case in point. He never got a look-in while at the Lions - behind Marx, Robbie Coetzee and Van der Merwe at that stage - but after his move to the Cape, he’s become quite a player. Has enjoyed a good season, especially in the loose, but inexperience may count against him.
The unlikely men
Scarra Ntubeni: The 27-year-old has been included in a few Bok squads over the years, but never got into a matchday team. It’s also unlikely to happen now, even though he’s again fit, well and playing regularly for the Stormers.
Robbie Coetzee: The Lions back-up to Marx was once considered good enough for a Bok squad call-up, but never played. Has had to accept life at the Lions will be one from off the bench - until now. Not expected to get a Bok nod soon.
Franco Marais: It wasn’t that long ago that the Sharks man was thought of as a potential Bok. He has accepted an offer to play in England for Gloucester.
The real long shot
Schalk Brits: There would be many rugby fans happy to see the 36-year-old recalled to the Bok team for one last time, to add to the paltry 10 appearances he’s made over the years. Many will feel the now retired player should have played many more Tests for the Boks, considering he ran out 144 times for Saracens over a 10-year period and was often regarded the best hooker in Europe. An experienced campaigner who would add value to the Bok set-up, but unlikely to be receiving any calls soon.