Malcolm Marx’s mid-term hamstring injury has punctured the hull of the Springbok tight five. The AOR team debates who has the metal to patch the gaping hole for the June Test series against England.
Tank Lanning – Bismarck du Plessis
The man has 79 Springbok caps, 18 of which were in wins against New Zealand, England and Australia (6 apiece), was named SA Player of the Year in 2008 and 2011, and currently plies his trade in a World XV masquerading as a French club side.
His mom’s pencil line on the wall is 1.89m from the floor, while the reinforced bathroom scale on the farm just outside Bloem sets him at 112 kg (before his Sunday lunch) – exactly the same as Marx. Talk about replacing like with like!
Du Plessis also knows his way to the tryline, having scored 11 tries for the Boks. In 2015 – his last meaningful contribution to South African rugby, the bustling ball of muscle ranked seventh in Super Rugby with 15 pilfers, and second in the Rugby Champs with five turnovers. So again, the Boks would be replacing like with like, and it’s a contribution the men in Green and Gold simply cannot do without.
Du Plessis turns 34 next week, quite obviously toward the end of a simply stellar career, yet nowhere near past it. Victor Matfield was playing World Cup rugby at the age of 38.
It would definitely be a short-term plan aimed at next year’s World Cup in Japan – either as a replacement for Marx should he get injured, or together with Marx as an elder statesman providing much needed experience.
With an eye on the future, I would start Akker van der Merwe against Wales. Having only played an hour of Super Rugby this year, the angry warthog has clearly rubbed Sharks coach Rob du Preez up the wrong way. Which is a pity, because I could see this guy contributing to the Bok cause in a big way.
Zelím Nel – Adriaan Strauss
Marx is the real McCoy. We’re still searching for a scrumhalf who can be mentioned in the same book (never mind the same sentence) as Fourie du Preez, but in Marx we’ve got Bismarck du Plessis’ successor.
Du Plessis is, in my opinion, the best hooker in Bok history, but there’s almost no chance he’ll offer value as a wingman to Marx at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Conversely, Strauss spent most of his career backing up Du Plessis and he’s rediscovered the 2014 form that had some pundits wondering whether he might wrest the No2 jersey from Bismarck.
Strauss was asked to herd cats under Allister Coetzee and the list of players who declared a rise in stock value during two of the worst Bok seasons is barely long enough to call it a list. It was a period that was so dark that Strauss went from leading South Africa to retiring from Test rugby.
John Mitchell has revived the 66-Test veteran this season, bringing him along slowly in a bench role for the Bulls during the opening rounds of Super Rugby that no doubt stoked the 32-year-old’s appetite for destruction.
Strauss offers experience, leadership value and set-piece credentials, and he’s got enough left in the tank to drive the Bok maul in Japan next year.
Marx’s withdrawal presents South Africa with a rare opportunity for the third-choice rake to fire live ammunition, but SA’s hooker pool isn’t exactly brimming with potential 2019 World Cup winners. That’s why I’d give Ashley Johnson a shot to prove that his big impact for Wasps in the English Premiership is transferrable to the Test arena.
Johnson, who turns 32 next week, is versatile, robust and mobile for a man of his dimensions and, if nothing else, will have first-hand experience of England’s squad.