Lions may have just lost the best player in Super Rugby
Despite being inconsistent this year, bashing the Waratahs 29-0 one week and losing to the lowly Reds the next, the Lions remain in contention to win the South African conference. Their hopes suffered a massive blow with Malcolm Marx being ruled out for six weeks with a hamstring tear.
The 23-year-old hooker has been a truly dominant force in Super Rugby this year, from man-handling opposition in defence, damaging runs and causing chaos at the breakdown – this 115kg wrecking ball has become one of the most influential players in the competition, if not the most valuable.
It’s the involvements Marx has that indirectly set the platform for the Lions in the lineouts and the scrums. After overcoming lineout struggles early in his career, he has the second best lineout efficiency in the competition, completing 89% despite throwing more than anyone else. The Lions scrum has also been dominant, earning a high number of penalties through the front row that gets the team easy territory.
Defensively, Marx is a solid tackler but it’s at the breakdown where he provides the most impact. He has five clean steals and 11 forced penalties for a total of 16 turnovers at the breakdown, the most of any player. The next best has nine. He is such an asset over the ball for the Lions that he defends at the back of the lineout like a loose forward. This allows him to be one of the first players to the breakdown, much like Pocock.
It’s no surprise that Marx used to be a flanker as a schoolboy, playing in tight, in a fetcher role. Former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer suggested he switch to hooker as a 16-year-old and the move has proved a masterstroke – his hybrid skill set is unrivaled in international rugby. New Zealand has a host of dynamic attacking hookers in Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, and the emerging Asafo Aumua, but none have the ability to wreck as much havoc defensively as Marx.
His seven tries are equal first with Akira Ioane for the most by a forward, although most of those come from being at the back of the Lions powerful maul. He has two try assists and another six line breaks which show he is a threat with ball in hand. He doesn’t have the same potency as Ioane with his carries, but performs the job well in close.
His loss will be felt by not just by the Lions, but the Springboks as well – he is clearly the out-and-out selection and has left everyone guessing as to who South Africa can pick as a replacement.
Marx was a top candidate for MVP in the RugbyPass midseason awards, based on how much he provides the Lions side. A lot of his work indirectly influences the scoreboard, giving the Lions territory and stability at set piece that they may turn into points. The theory was without him, they a lot of these opportunities could vanish. That theory will be tested over the next three weeks before the June international break.
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