‘Marx like a No 8 playing hooker’

What former Bok coach NICK MALLETT had to say on SuperSport about the Super Rugby quarter-finals involving South African teams.

Lions vs Crusaders

‘It was a brilliant performance by the Lions. The Crusaders are a team that never go away. They had long periods with the ball, but I thought the Lions' defence was outstanding. We’ve talked a lot about the great start they had and the tries they scored, but it was the times they didn’t have the ball that I was most impressed with. They defended incredibly well, worked hard for each other, made it difficult for the Crusaders to create gaps, because they had a shifting defence as opposed to a press defence, and they played territory well. Even though some of the kicks were inaccurate, they still forced [fullback] Israel Dagg to run the ball out of his 22.

‘[Lions hooker] Malcolm Marx used to be a loose forward and he is a marvellous defender. His tight phases are amazing. His throwing in at the lineouts, his driving play, his tackling and his scrumming are excellent. The props next to him must feel incredibly secure. He is going to push Adriaan Strauss very hard this year [for the Springbok No 2 jersey]. The big difference between Marx and Bismarck du Plessis is he is appreciably faster around the field. Bismarck is a powerful but slow player, more like another prop. This guy is like a No 8 playing hooker. He has the skill set of a loose forward, but the correct lineout and scrumming techniques of a world-class hooker.

‘We are so lucky with centres, but Rohan Janse van Rensburg has been very good, particularly defensively. We see him give the Lions forward momentum so well, but most important is the fact he tackles so well because he is so physical.

‘Faf de Klerk is the heartbeat of this Lions team. He is quick to the breakdown, the accuracy of his passing is excellent and his reading of the game is good. He is clearly the best No 9 in South Africa, whereas at the end of last season we weren’t sure who was going to take over from Fourie du Preez. We are very fortunate that Faf has come through as well as he has.

‘Ruan Combrinck’s try was world-class and proves that South African rugby players can score tries like New Zealanders, we just have to keep on practicing it to get it in our system so that it comes naturally.

‘This was a really good performance by the Lions and they thoroughly deserved to win. I’m so proud of them.

'[Referee] Craig Joubert had a good game as well. He was in good positions to award the tries, handled some difficult situations well and contributed to a great day for Lions rugby but also South African rugby.’

Hurricanes vs Sharks

‘The Sharks were just terrible. It was poor rugby played without the conviction and intensity that you want from your players at this stage of the competition. There’s nothing to be positive about. Looking at the New Zealand derbies, there is so much intensity, physicality, skill, speed and intelligence in the way they play, but also passion and enjoyment. It looks like we are not enjoying it, except for the Lions.

‘This was an example of how to play wet-weather rugby. The Hurricanes scored 41 points to nought, and it looked like the Hurricanes were playing with a dry ball. Their understanding of how to pass sympathetically – soft passes – was exceptional. John Plumtree has done a magnificent job with the forwards of the Hurricanes. He was the coach of the Sharks. Why fire someone for something that wasn’t broken? The Sharks have gone through a torrid three years. But Plumtree has gone from strength to strength because he is a top coach. What he has brought to this Hurricanes side is steel to the front five that they’ve never had before. They used to produce brilliant loose forwards and great backs, but you could always take them on in the front five. He really improved that.

'There were so many mistakes the Sharks made in this game. It was one big disappointment.

‘The future of rugby is moving more towards the way the Lions play and not this type of performance from the Sharks. We shouldn’t play koppestamp rugby anymore. We can stay with our traditional strengths, as people call it – good set piece, good lineout, good driving maul, physicality, or just run over people – we have to be more varied in our attacking strategies in order to break down defences.'

Stormers vs Chiefs

‘This was a real lesson. The Chiefs put 60 points on the Stormers and that shows the gulf between the standard of the New Zealand conference and our conferences. Australian teams are very poor at the moment, but we are closer to Australia than we are to New Zealand, apart from the Lions.

'The Stormers tried to play a physical and direct game, but the flyhalf, Robert du Preez, was too far back behind the advantage line. He had to be much flatter. The Chiefs were quicker with thought and deed, their lineouts were quick, hand speed quick, running lines far better and their ability to get back on their feet and back into position to re-impose themselves as attacking options were wonderful to watch. The Chiefs made over 100 tackles, whereas the Stormers made half that. The Chiefs’ offensive kicking was very good. 

‘What Schalk Burger has gone through in terms of injury and illness, and still come back to play every time, is commendable. He is going to be a huge asset as a person and rugby player to Saracens. He has done so much for his union and has never considered moving. I’m sure there have been big proposals from other big unions and from France and he stayed with Western Province and the Stormers. Schalk is a wonderful person and an example of what you can become if you stick to what you do best, which is a top-class rugby player on the field and a fantastic person off it.’

Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

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Nick Mallett