The first Bok squad under Allister Coetzee’s tutelage will be announced soon, and we’re getting a clearer picture of what the starting XV might look like with each passing round of Vodacom Super Rugby.
However, a clear claimant for the hooker position has yet to emerge from the pack of contenders for the No 2 jersey.
Having been a more than competent deputy in the Heyneke Meyer era, Adriaan Strauss was at the top of our lists when Bismarck du Plessis moved to Europe.
This season, Edgar Marutlulle and Malcom Marx have emerged, putting in impressive performances consistently, while Akker van der Merwe has entered “bolter” territory with his eye-catching cameos. Scarra Ntubeni was on the periphery of the previous coaching team’s plans, but is yet to really get going in 2016. He has to work harder to convince the selectors.
For all we know, Du Plessis could still get a call-up as he has not retired from international rugby, not forgetting the fact that overseas-based players are still eligible for Springbok duty. If you watched him shredding Harlequins at the breakdown in the European Challenge Cup final for Montpellier, then speaking of his Bok career in past tense would be presumptuous.
That possibility aside, Strauss is a player destined to form a part of the leadership core in Coetzee’s squad. He has captained every provincial squad he’s played in, as well as deputising at international level. Experience will be crucial in what will be a new look Bok side, and any quality leadership will be valuable.
You’d bet on him to be in the run-on side but the statistics point elsewhere. Apart from scrummaging and throwing in the lineout, the requirements of the modern hooker often demand that he is the most explosive, mobile and skilful player in the tight five – Dane Coles, Agustin Creevy and Schalk Brits come to mind.
The Bok hopefuls I’ve mentioned are above average in all these departments, which makes for interesting reading when trying to whittle them down to the chosen one.
Numbers do not often reflect how a player can impact crucial aspects of a game. For instance, Malcolm Marx’ stats are not quite on the level of the best in Super Rugby, but the man’s physicality is very difficult to live with. He is an intimidating specimen in the mould of du Plessis, and when they are in the mood, an enviable asset to the Lions.
However, the numbers speak favourably for Marutlulle – you need a calculator to add up his bustling, livewire contributions across the park.
I have chosen to compare him and Strauss because they have the best stats among South African hookers.
Arguably the King’s player of the season thus far, Marutlulle has played 225 minutes less than Strauss, yet he boasts 85 carries in comparison to the Bulls captain’s 67. From these carries, Marutlulle has gained 287 meters, against Strauss’ 92.
This is remarkable, as Strauss is renowned for his running game with ball in hand. Marutlulle has broken the line seven times, beating 14 defenders along the way. While both of them have four tries each, he is shading Strauss in the attacking statistics column.
It’s on defence where the latter has been good, having an 89% tackle-completion rate to Marutlulle’s 76%.
The Bulls lead the competition’s lineout success-rate with 92%, compared to the King’s credible 88% in 7th place. This reflects well on both of them as throwers. Noticeably, at 1.77m and 91kgs, Marutlulle is among the smaller players on the field, let alone the forward packs. Perhaps this increases his value as a replacement, with his energy off the bench providing an advantage as a match wears on.
It’s great to know that one position in the Bok squad has healthy competition going for it. Coetzee cannot be faulted whoever he decides to start – it will be a good selection either way.
Keba works in Supersport’s new media department – he lives for sport, loves rugby unconditionally and has a lot to say. Follow him on Twitter: @Keba_MC