Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, SA Rugby Player of the Year MALCOLM MARX talks about not resting on his laurels, Springbok rugby and the Lions’ opening clash against the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: You scooped a hat-trick of SA Rugby awards. Have your achievements sunk in yet?
Malcolm Marx: I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet because I don’t see it as only my awards. I regard my achievements as a team award because if it wasn’t for them I believe it wouldn’t have happened. I’m humbled to have been named the SA Rugby Player of the Year, Young Player (under-23) and Super Rugby Player of the Year for 2017. However, if it wasn’t for my teammates, coaches, family and girlfriend, Kirsten, it really wouldn’t have been possible. All the support and generosity from their side has really helped me. As such, I would like to share the awards with everybody that has helped and supported me throughout my journey. I am so thankful to play rugby and can think of thousands of people who would love to be in my shoes and do what they love for a living every day.
Sport24 asked: You had a stellar 2017 season. Do you see yourself playing 100 Tests for the Boks?
Malcolm Marx: I would like to do that (have a long and successful career for South Africa) but I will never take anything for granted. As quickly as you can you can be selected and play for the Springbok team, just as quickly can it be taken away from you. That is why I will always be thankful and continue to work hard. Bismarck du Plessis and John Smit are two of my idols that I looked up to when I first moved from loose forward to hooker. In my eyes, they were literally everything when I was growing up and playing rugby. I really wanted to play like them and learning from them was my aim. I heard that former Springbok assistant coach Alan Solomons has said: “Bismarck du Plessis is a superb player and fine athlete but Malcolm Marx has the ability to be even better than him.” I’m obviously honoured and humbled to be compared to a player like Bismarck, whose stature is unreal. He served South Africa and the Sharks so well. He is a great all-round player and I have tried to watch games of his to learn from what he has done and become a player of his calibre. I would like to say my performance against New Zealand in Cape Town was my best individual display to date but in the same breath I want to improve and don’t want to just rely on one thing (past performances) to get me through. I always want to be better and will work harder in order to improve. In the modern game, your No.2 needs to be an effective ball-player, a fetcher and a solid set-piece exponent. In my opinion, the modern hooker requires an all-round game - you can’t just focus on one aspect of play.
Sport24 asked: Do you expect the Springboks to bounce back this season after a topsy-turvy 2017?
Malcolm Marx: I believe 2018 is going to be a good year for the Springboks. I really do feel for Allister Coetzee (who parted ways with SA Rugby after two seasons and 25 Test matches at the helm of the national team). It is not an easy job to be a head coach, especially of a national side. However, I’m not focused on Springbok rugby at the moment - at present I am fully focused on my Super Rugby franchise and first want to entrench myself within the Lions team before I think of anything else. I can’t take last year for granted and use that this year. This season is a new phase and I need to work harder this year than I did last to try and get myself in a better position. I’m not too fazed about Springbok rugby at the current time because my focus is on my Super Rugby franchise. However, if the opportunity presents itself at Springbok level this year, I will give my best and will always be thankful for the opportunity to play Test match rugby and add to my 14 caps for the Boks. It’s an honour and a privilege to play for South Africa and I am so thankful for every opportunity I get to do what I love. Playing for the Springboks is a great experience that words cannot totally describe.
Sport24 asked: Your girlfriend referred to you as “a perfectionist in your game”. A fair assessment?
Malcolm Marx: I was raised by a single parent, my mother Bernadine, and my drive in life to be the best comes from her. Growing up wasn’t so easy but my mother literally did everything she could in her power to give us what we needed and that made me realise that I’ve got to drive myself. I will never let my mother down and be disappointed with me. I always want to make my mother, brother and girlfriend proud. My drive comes from how my mother raised us. She taught us not to give up and to always stick in the fight no matter the circumstances. In terms of working hard on my game, moving from flank to hooker wasn’t easy for me and I really wanted to learn and get better. And I knew that lineout throwing was an area of my game that I could drastically improve upon. Kirsten has helped me during her off-time, so I can better myself as a player. She holds the lollipop (the apparatus hookers aim for when honing their lineout throw-ins) and I throw several throws at different distances. I’m currently working on all the other areas of my game as well but I’m definitely thankful for what my girlfriend has done for me in terms of assisting with my lineout throwing. (The Boks enjoyed a 93 percent lineout success rate in the Test match against New Zealand at Newlands).
Sport24 asked: What are your aspirations and expectations for the Lions this Super Rugby season?
Malcolm Marx: This year is definitely going to be tough but we have worked hard during the pre-season. The challenge is always to be better than the year before. We are just focusing on ourselves at the Lions and doing our preparation as best we can. We will see what happens throughout the competition and don’t want to count our chickens before they hatch. Playing at Ellis Park is a real privilege and the fact that six of our first eight games are at home is an added bonus. We are so spoilt to play at such a special stadium. We are really excited for the new season and looking forward to the year ahead but we will take it week by week, game by game and won’t take any opponents for granted. As Super Rugby runners-up for the past two seasons there is a bit of added pressure on us but at the end of the day there is nothing we can do about external expectations. We will focus on ourselves and doing our own jobs. Coach Swys (de Bruin) taking over from coach Akkers (Johan Ackermann) has proved a smooth transition. Coach Akkers is obviously a great coach and he really knows how to bring a team together and deal with players individually. He is a great man and a leader and I think coach Swys will be exactly the same. He worked closely with coach Akkers over a number of years and would obviously have learned from that and seen what coach Akkers did. I definitely back coach Swys 100 percent and I think the whole team does. It’s all about belief and we all believe in each other at the Lions. One of our mottos is about having an ‘attitude of gratitude’. Coach Swys has continued from where coach Akkers left off in terms of effective player management. We can be grateful for the great people we have at the Lions and how well they treat us as players. And we ultimately play the game to inspire - whether it be just one person or a nation.
Sport24 asked: Your thoughts ahead of the clash against the Sharks in Johannesburg on Saturday?
Malcolm Marx: The Sharks are definitely a great side and they always put pressure on us. It’s going to be an interesting game to kick off our Super Rugby campaign. We will do our best and will analyse them. We will do as much as we can and see how things go on Saturday. The Sharks have improved and are a tough team to beat. I’m looking forward to the weekend - it’s going to be a nice challenge.
Previous Q&A chats:Rohan Janse van Rensburg