JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Malcolm Marx has made a timely return from injury to hand the Lions a significant boost as the South Africans seek to reach the Super Rugby final for a third successive year when they host the New South Wales Waratahs in Saturday's semi-final.
The 24-year-old hooker’s performance in last weekend’s quarter-final win over the Jaguares drew rich praise as he catapulted his way around the field, carrying the ball forcefully, winning four turnovers with his poaching at the ruck and scoring a long-range intercept try that changed the course of the game.
Last year he was named the best player in South African Rugby, while solidifying his place in the Springbok line-up and helping the Lions to the Super Rugby final.
Former South Africa coach Nick Mallett, now a television pundit, said Marx was the "best in the world", comparing him to past Bok greats.
"I think that we should be so grateful. We have had a great captain in John Smit as a hooker, we had Bismarck du Plessis, who was the best in the world in his time. Suddenly out of nowhere pops Marx, the best in the world in my opinion, at a very young age already," said Mallett.
Marx has looked to downplay the praise.
"I'm obviously very humbled but it is not about me. Anything I can do to benefit the team and put the team in a better position to win the game, that is what I will do."
Marx was sidelined by a hamstring injury for six weeks earlier in the season, missing key games for his side as well as June’s three-test series for the Boks against England.
"I just wanted to play. I said to myself, when I get back all I want to do is get back into form and contribute wherever I can for the team."
He was back in time to help the Lions advance to the playoffs as they seek to go one better after finishing runners-up in the last two years.
But before the Lions can think of a third final, they must dispose of the top Australian team at Ellis Park.
"The Waratahs come with a great challenge but we focus on ourselves and we will go from there. They are dangerous from quick ball and it will take a massive team effort (to stop them) and that is what we are preparing for this week," Marx said.
"Obviously I see stealing the opposition's ball as another part of my job. You never really play it out on the training field like it will happen in the game so I just try and focus on that in the game and when there is an opportunity try and take it."
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)