He has been dubbed “Magnificent Marx” and “Malcolm in the Middle” after taking the rugby world by storm, but expect much more to come from the muscled Lions and Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx.
His physical presence earned him the Man-of-the-Match award the first time he started a Test for the Boks in the first match against France at Loftus Versfeld in June.
He started in all nine Tests this year and, together with the two from the bench last year, has 11 Tests behind his name at the age of 23, scoring three tries in the process.
“When Malcolm contests for the ball on the ground he is so powerful that he becomes simply immovable. He is like a machine,” remarked former Bok prop Robbie Kempson.
Marx will get the chance to show the northern hemisphere what he is capable of when the Boks take on Ireland in Dublin today in the first of four Tests on their European tour – an outing which Marx describes as “another step in the process to make the Bok jersey respected”.
But to interview the 114kg and 1.88m mountain of a man – he is even bigger in real life than what you see on television – is not the easiest job.
As much as he is an extrovert out on the park, he keeps his cards close to his chest when it comes to speaking about himself.
“There’s no perfect game ever. I’m a student of the game and just want to get better every week,” said the modest Marx, who in 2014 became the Lions’ youngest senior contracted player at the tender age of 20.
Best then to hear what Bok coach Allister Coetzee had to say about the No 2 after his rousing performance in the recent one-point loss to the All Blacks at Newlands.
Afterwards Marx was duly rewarded with a dual Springbok and Lions contract, which will keep him in South Africa beyond the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“Heading into the next World Cup (2019), we will be identifying worldclass players to develop a squad capable of doing well in Japan,” said Coetzee.
“Malcolm and Steven (Kitshoff) definitely proved themselves to be two world-class players.”
Marx, however, didn’t have the easiest of childhoods.
After being born in Germiston, his parents split when he was just five and he and his brother Jean had to grow up without a father figure.
His met his girlfriend, Kristen – a medical student – when he was 15 and she 16 and they have been together for eight years.
He attended King Edward School and, in addition to rugby, he also excelled in football and watersports such as water polo and lifesaving.
Today he remains close friends with Lions teammates Cyle Brink and Dylan Smith, whom he attended KES with.
He represented the Golden Lions at Craven Week in 2011 and 2012, and was selected for the SA Academy team in 2011, the SA Schools’ side in 2012, and the national Under-20 team at the Junior World Championships in New Zealand in 2014.
Interestingly, it was on the recommendation of former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer that Marx was moved from flank to hooker in his matric year.
“I was a No 7 at school, but with my coaches at KES moving to a more expansive game, they thought I might make a good No 2,” said Marx.
He went on to make an immediate impact after school in 2013, when he scored four tries in eight appearances for the University of Johannesburg.
In the same year he also represented the Lions at Under-19 level and went on to scoop the Golden Lions Under-19 Forward-of-the-Year award.
From there his steady rise continued through Currie Cup and Super Rugby level to cement his place as South Africa’s No 1 hooker.
Reflecting on the day he made his Bok debut off the bench in a 41-13 loss to the All Blacks in Christchurch last year when he replaced Adriaan Strauss, Marx was at a loss for words.
“I sort of felt it was unreal when they told me I was going on,” he remembers. “I couldn’t really say much at the time, it was just an amazing experience.”
Former Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis, whom Marx admits was one of his idols, ironically now can’t find a place in the Bok set-up because of Marx’ rise to fame.
“I aimed to play the way he used to when I moved to hooker. He was the guy I wanted to model myself on,” said Marx.
“Obviously I want to be a player in my own right, but there’s nothing wrong with using Bismarck as a yardstick.” If Marx can match or better his idol’s reputation over the next four weeks, there’ll be little doubt he deserves carrying the mantle as the world’s best hooker.
Additional sources: SuperSport, WikiPedia.