Star hooker Malcolm Marx insists the Lions are just as strong as a year ago when they made the Super Rugby final, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In 2017, the Lions finished top of the overall standings – dropping just one game along the way – as they booked a home final against the Crusaders. The Lions eventually lost 25-17 in a match where Kwagga Smith received a red card.
The Lions haven’t been quite so formidable this year, with the Johannesburg-based side winning nine from 16 games in the conference stage, while a couple of rather fortuitous results enabled them to finish in second place overall.
However, an argument can certainly be made to suggest the Lions have begun to peak at just the right time, with the return to fitness of key figures such as Marx, Warren Whiteley, Ruan Combrinck and Courtnall Skosan serving to bolster the side at the business end of the competition.
The Lions certainly seemed to boast some of their old swagger as they staved off a fightback from the Jaguares in last Saturday’s quarter-final, before comfortably claiming a 40-23 win.
Marx walked away with the Man of the Match award in that clash, and when talking to the media in Johannesburg on Tuesday, he reiterated that the team was in high spirits ahead of Saturday’s semi-final against the Waratahs.
‘I think we’re a bit more experienced now that we’ve had two finals [2016 and 2017] under our belt … I definitely believe we’re as strong as we were a year ago. We have lost a couple of guys, but on the whole, I don’t think there’s much of a difference at all.’
Personally, Marx has made a remarkable return to form considering he only recently made his comeback from a hamstring injury.
Last Saturday, the 24-year-old was at his imposing best in general play, while winning a handful of crucial turnovers, which even prompted former Bok coach Nick Mallett to suggest he was the best hooker in world rugby at the moment.
‘I’m very humbled by such comments, but it’s not about me, it’s all about just trying to benefit the team and help them in any way to get a victory,’ Marx humbly responded.
‘It was tough having to sit on the sidelines during the Test window, so I just said to myself that all I wanted to do was to get back to fitness and form and contribute to the team as quickly as possible. It’s never nice to be out of the game, so I’m just happy to be back on the park.’
He also explained how his effectiveness at the breakdown was more about on-field instincts than anything else.
‘I just see it as another part of my job to hopefully benefit the team and put them in a better position. In the week, I’ll try to get my head stuck in a few rucks during training, and you have to be prepared to get cleaned out a couple of times, but when the opportunity presents itself [in a game situation], I just try and go for it. You can never really replicate in training how those game situations will play out.’
After this season, the Lions are set to bid farewell to several players who have formed part of their journey over the past few years. With this in mind, Marx hinted that there would be some extra motivation and emotion as they seek to reach a third successive final.
‘I can only describe the environment here in one word: brotherhood. It’s hard to actually explain unless you’ve experienced it yourself. Everyone cares about each other, it’s not about the individual, but rather how we can help each other to perform as well as possible as a group.’
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images