CAPE TOWN - I sure hope Malcolm Marx gets cleared to play in Saturday's Test against Italy. I really do. There’s not much of an explanation needed, I think. The Springboks just need him.
The Lions hooker - who picked up a shoulder injury when the Springboks scraped through to bag an 18-17 win against France last weekend - went for an MRI scan on Monday. Although the scan revealed no major injury, team doctor Konrad von Hagen said that he would have to recover from some soft tissue bruising and will be “given as much time as possible to recover.”
Marx is back to his bustling best, and that kind of presence will be more needed for the Boks going forward on this tour than the Rugby World Cup bidding and recommendation process needs examining.
The Springboks have already opened their end-of-year tour proceedings with a record 38-3 defeat to Ireland, and an unconvincing win over France didn’t do much to ease the pressure off the Boks. So, if Allister Coetzee and Co want to return to South Africa with at least a crumb of dignity, they are going to have to beat Italy. Sure, that task seems like a given, but then again, we all know what happened in Padova last year.
Beating Wales in the last match of the tour is going to be a tough assignment for the Boks. Which brings us back to Marx.
In a game with very few positives in Paris last weekend, Marx was one of the few shining lights on a field that had its fair share of fused bulbs (individually and in terms of play). He made big carries, and powered and slipped his way out of the hands of the French. You know, he did his usual stuff. He was all over the Stade de France.
And it’s his usual stuff that’s going to be needed this weekend.
Sure, the Boks do have back-up should Marx not be available to play on Saturday. There’s the Sharks’ Chiliboy Ralepelle and there’s Stormers front-rower Bongi Mbonambi - a good No 2 in his own right, a No 2 who also knows his way around a rugby field - but he just doesn’t offer everything that Marx does. Does anyone really? I understand that Bongi and Chiliboy also need game time, and the last thing I want is for two black players to spend the tour wasted on the bench or making sure the bus is on time. But the problem is that the Boks just can’t afford to be without Marx, if not against Italy, then certainly against Wales.
The concern that bordered on panic in SA rugby circles regarding Marx’s lineout-throwing has somewhat seemed to drop a few levels this season. Yes, there’s been the occasional lineout dart that the 23-year-old might have misdirected, but his work at the set-piece has improved significantly and his contribution in general play speaks for itself (think of his metres gained, tackles made, carries made, and those turnovers made, of course).
Marx’s power, his ball-handling ability, work at the breakdowns and his always-everywhere work rate will be a massive asset for the Boks this weekend, and that can’t be doubted.
Earlier this week, Springbok scrum coach Matt Proudfoot spoke about the Italian threat when it comes to stopping forward momentum at the breakdown - an area that Marx has stamped his name on in bold. And when it comes to stopping their momentum, well, that’s where Marx will come in quite handy as well. With Dane Coles injured, you name me a better hooker in world rugby at the moment than Marx. That’s why the Boks need him.