JOHANNESBURG – The stuttering Lions will go into this weekend’s Super Rugby clash against the Highlanders in Dunedin with just one recognised hooker in their ranks after first choice No 2 Malcolm Marx was ruled out of the clash with a groin injury.
It’s a major gamble by the Lions coaching team who will be desperate to pick up a win before heading back to South Africa.
Robbie Coetzee will wear the No 2 jumper in Marx’s absence but with no other recognised hooker in the tour squad, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll pack down in the middle of the front row should anything untoward happen to Coetzee.
De Bruin stated on Saturday after his team slumped to defeat by the Hurricanes that he’d not call up a replacement for Marx. The Springbok hooker will be back on SA soil today after hurting his groin in Wellington and is set to undergo scans to determine the injury's severity.
Marx cried off before 10 minutes were up on Saturday and his absence left the Lions with a gaping hole to fill. Not only is last year’s SA Rugby Player of the Year a powerful scrummager, he is also one of his team’s main ball-carriers and fetchers. The Lions weren’t the same team without him on Saturday and they may struggle going forward in the competition, too, should he be ruled out for any length of time.
But it is not only the Lions’ coaching team and supporters who’ll be hoping for good news about the groin, but Springbok fans, too. Marx is the one man new coach Rassie Erasmus was almost certain to pick for the starting team for next month’s three Test series against England. It would be a massive blow to the Boks if were he to be ruled out.
Groin injuries range from grade one to three and usually keep players sidelined for between two to 10 weeks.
Erasmus would, however, be able to call on the experienced Adriaan Strauss of the Bulls, a player with vast experience and who is in good form, but he would have to make himself available for Test rugby again after retiring from the international game at the end of 2016, a year in which he led the Boks.
There is also the option of recalling Montpellier-based Bismarck du Plessis to the national team, but there is uncertainty around his availability. In recent days the name of Schalk Brits, who has just retired from the game after several seasons at Saracens, has popped up, too.
Locally, Erasmus could call on Scarra Ntubeni or Ramone Samuels of the Stormers, while Sharks men Chiliboy Ralepelle and Akker van der Merwe have their favourites.
For now Lions fans will be hoping Marx’s injury isn’t too serious, especially with their team in something of a tight spot after starting their Australasian tour on a high note.
Three weekends ago the Lions kicked off their tour with a resounding 29-0 win against the Waratahs in Sydney, but they fell to the lowly Reds last week and were out of sorts against the Hurricanes as well. Several missed tackles, many by seasoned campaigners, cost them dearly, and things aren’t going to get much easier for them.
The Highlanders await in Dunedin this weekend - and there won’t be Marx in the mix - and then it’s back home for clashes with the Brumbies (home), Stormers (away), the Sharks (away) and Bulls (home).
The Lions’ third choice hooker at the moment is Corne Fourie, a regular prop who is trying to convert to a hooker, and could come into the selection talk from next week.