JOHANNESBURG – Malcolm Marx admitted yesterday the frustration of having to watch proceedings from the sidelines for six weeks because of injury has contributed to his rip-roaring performances of late for the Lions.
The No 2 has been in phenomenal form for the Lions, helping them qualify for the Super Rugby play-offs for the third year in a row. They will host the Waratahs in the second semi-final this weekend, with a place in the final against the Crusaders or Hurricanes at stake.
Marx returned to action just three weeks ago having spent the six weeks before that on the sidelines with a high-grade hamstring tendon tear, which he picked up playing against the Hurricanes in Wellington, in early May. It meant he missed the four Springbok Tests in June, something that for obvious reasons hurt.
“I just wanted to play (after that injury),” he said yesterday. “I said to myself (last month) that when I get back I need to get into form and contribute. It was definitely frustrating, sitting and watching. But, injuries are part of the game ... I’m just happy to be back on the park.”
And so are the Lions happy, and every Springbok supporter, too. Marx was in imperious form against the Jaguares last weekend, making several crucial breakdown steals in defence, and also scoring a breakaway intercept try. “It doesn’t happen often that a front row forward finds himself in that position; I was overjoyed,” he said about the five-pointer.
The Lions and Bok hooker has become more than just a world class No 2 in the last few years; he’s become something like an extra loose-forward in the manner he contests for breakdown ball, while his try-scoring ability from the back of the driving maul has become a staple for the Lions. So what’s his secret?
“During the week I try to get my head stuck in a few rucks, and I get cleaned out a bit, but you can’t play it out on the training ground,” he said about the preparation, or not, that goes into his now famous ball-winning ability on the ground.
“When an opportunity presents itself (in a game) ... I go from there, I take it when I can. I did play (at number) seven at high school, before moving to hooker in Matric, so I wanted to play the same role, just tighter.”
Marx has for some time been labelled the best hooker in world rugby, with former Lions coach Johan Ackermann predicting three years ago the now 24-year-old would be South Africa’s and the world’s best No 2. At the time Ackermann said Marx had everything in his arsenal that would make him better than the once highly-rated Bismarck du Plessis.
Asked how it felt to be called the best in the business, Marx chuckled and said, “Ag, no. Obviously, I’m very humbled, but it’s not about me, it’s about the team at the end of the day and anything I can do to benefit the team, I’ll do.”
The Waratahs will be wary of the Emirates @LionsRugbyCo’s Kwagga Smith, who does not easily miss a tackle. Not only has he made 221 tackles this Vodacom #SuperRugby season, but he’s not far behind Malcolm Marx with turnovers won. pic.twitter.com/wTf8cGTAxf
The Waratahs will present a new challenge for the Lions this weekend, with the Sydney-based side back in the semi-finals for the first time in a few years. And with a place in the final at stake - for a third time if the Lions win - there’s a lot riding on the outcome.
“There’s definitely excitement, but there are also nerves. The Waratahs will come with a great challenge,” said Marx. “Obviously, they are a dangerous team who like quick ball, so it will take a massive team effort from us.
“But, we’re a more experienced team now (having played in two previous play-offs series, in 2016 and 2017), and we have better depth.”
The last time Marx faced the Tahs - in Sydney on April 20 - the Lions won 29-0; and the hooker was on top of his game. He made nine carries that day in beating five defenders, three of those clean breaks, the most by a Lions player. Also, Marx made four turn-overs, the most by a Lions player - so the Waratahs know what they’re up against.
Lions boss Swys de Bruin will name his side for the match tomorrow.