Malcolm Marx used the occasion of his 50th Test match to cement himself as the best hooker in the world as the Springboks wiped the floor with the All Blacks in Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener in Nelspruit, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The world champions dominated in all departments in their commanding 26-10 win at a sold-out Mbombela Stadium to compound the Kiwis’ woes.
The emphatic victory was the Springboks’ biggest over their arch-rivals since South Africa’s return from international isolation in 1992 and broke an eight-year hoodoo against New Zealand at home.
Our top three Springbok standouts were:
A monster. A menace. A maestro.
It was clear in his calm and collected demeanour as he led out the hosts to bring up his Springbok half-century that Marx was a man on a mission. That mission wasn’t a personal pursuit to shine in his milestone match but, rather, a selfless endeavour to put his body on the line and help the decorated current group of green and gold gladiators achieve the one feat that had eluded them.
Siya Kolisi and company won the Southern Hemisphere showpiece and the World Cup in 2019 and added a British & Irish Lions series triumph to their honour roll last year, but they had never beaten the All Blacks on South African soil going into the battle at Mbombela Stadium. Marx led the march toward setting that record straight and he did so by delivering a colossal complete performance that only he can at No 2.
The 28-year-old showed he’s more than the total package. Clinical in the set pieces, monstrous in winning collisions on both sides of the ball and a menace at the breakdown, he’s an unmatched marvel who’s redefined the role of a rugby hooker. His Man of the Match performance hammered home the fact that he’s the absolute best in the business.
No less than five turnovers, relentless carries, fending off opposite number Samisoni Taukei’aho, blasting Ardie Savea with a bone-crunching hit and stopping a dangerous counter-attack with a vital tackle on Jordie Barrett were among the highlights of his masterclass. Make that a Marxterclass!
Arendse more than rose to the occasion in what was his first outing against the All Blacks and just his second Test. The diminutive dynamo ruled the skies like a seasoned fighter pilot, whisking between obstacles at full tilt and soaring above taller foes to spearhead South Africa’s aerial dominance.
His maiden Test try came from exactly such a leap as he got underneath Handre Pollard’s perfectly-weighted up-and-under, forced Beauden Barrett to spill the ball and collected Lukhanyo Am’s outstanding offload to race over in the corner. Another memorable blast-off saw the 1.8m winger out-jump 1.97m second-rower Scott Barrett at a restart.
Furthermore, the 76kg flyer did a great job containing 1.84m, 107kg Caleb Clarke in their David versus Goliath battle, most notably bumping the behemoth into touch. He made a big hit on Beauden Barrett as well, while he also won a turnover and ran for 50 metres in seven carries.
It’s such a shame he crashed and burned in the 75th minute, getting his timing wrong in a nasty mid-air collision with Beauden Barrett that saw the rookie red-carded and stretchered off.
Pollard was outstanding with his game management and educated boot, scoring 16 points in a flawless goal-kicking performance while landing a clever drop-goal and hoisting the aforementioned bomb that led to Arendse’s try.
Am was awesome as well, the midfielder’s awareness was simply off the charts to throw THAT money ball to Arendse for the winger’s try, while his textbook breakdown penalty in the 71st minute took the Springboks past two scores. He also memorably flung Clarke into touch.
Then there was Damian Willemse, who delivered another dynamic all-around display that saw him make a Springbok-high 73 metres in nine carries and brilliantly reel in a flying Clark.
However, Hendrikse deserves extra praise for the composure he showed to come on for the injured Faf de Klerk after just 45 seconds and marshal the Springboks with pinpoint accuracy from the base.
The 22-year-old’s box kicks were spot on, he consistently found touch on the halfway line with his exit kicks and he was fast and crisp when it came to driving phase play. To go from expecting to play a 20-minute cameo to being thrown into the fire and outplaying Aaron Smith, one of the best scrumhalves in the world, was mightily impressive on the Sharks prodigy’s part.