Johannesburg - It was Malcolm Marx standing in his way that inspired Akker van der Merwe to leave the Lions and move to Durban.
It could be an injury to the same Marx that will help Van der Merwe graduate to the next level and become a Springbok, according to the SuperSport.com website.
Man of the match in two successive games, one against a New Zealand team and another where he was pitted in direct opposition to a top Bok contender and former national captain in Adriaan Strauss, has helped showcase the benefits that the Sharks hooker has derived from being a regular starter.
Although another Bok candidate who has shown good form this season, Chiliboy Ralepelle, and to a lesser extent Franco Marais have been rotated with Van der Merwe during Super Rugby, it does appear that “the angry warthog”, as he was dubbed by Nick Mallett, is now the first choice in Durban.
Don’t bet against him becoming the first choice for the Boks too, at least while Marx is away, as he appears to be gaining momentum with each passing week and doesn’t have any notable weak area in his game.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has been busy finalising what could be as much as a 39-man squad for the one-off game against Wales on 2 June that will start the international year as well as the three Test series against Eddie Jones’ England.
Hooker would have become an area of special interest for Erasmus following the injury that Marx sustained against the Hurricanes and which has ruled him out of at least the first three Tests of the year.
It is understood that veteran Bismarck du Plessis, currently playing in France, will make his return to the Bok squad for the first time since the 2015 World Cup. Initially the plan was that he would back up Marx and perform a mentoring role, but don’t bet against him starting against Wales in Washington.
As the Sharks are in Buenos Aires currently and will be only returning from Argentina on Sunday, logistically it is difficult to foresee many Sharks players being included for the first match of the year. It might make sense to play overseas based players in Washington.
Before Van der Merwe, who was schooled at Outeniqua High in George and started his career with the SWD Eagles, started his charge, Strauss was the form South African hooker in Super Rugby. If he is available, he could still be an invaluable member of the squad, as he has leadership experience and can perform the same role that Erasmus wants from Du Plessis.
However, Strauss blotted his copy book somewhat with his poor performance against the Jaguares for the Bulls in Buenos Aires last week, and that might just give Van der Merwe a gap. As he is only 26, Van der Merwe would be the selection for the future, if he went in that direction.
Other players who should be on Erasmus’ radar when he looks at the hookers are Ralepelle, who has plenty of international experience, and Bongi Mbonambi. The latter was being groomed by Erasmus’ predecessor as Bok coach, Allister Coetzee, as the back-up for Marx. Mbonambi has 14 test caps, most of them from the bench.
What has held up Mbonambi’s progress this year has been the emergency appendectomy he underwent before the season started, and that procedure was followed up by two more abdominal operations.
Mbonambi has yet to play Super Rugby in 2018, but he made his return to the playing field for Western Province in a SuperSport Challenge match in George last weekend and Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has indicated that he will be part of his match day squad for the match against the Lions.
The other Stormers hooker Ramone Samuels, who like Van der Merwe has served as Marx’s back-up at the Lions, has come into his own and shown good form in general play this season but he carried question marks over his lineout throwing.
The strength of his candidacy for a place in the extended Bok squad - it will be whittled down for the England series - will depend on whether Erasmus believes he can improve that aspect of Samuels’ game.