Malcolm Marx may be the biggest winner after Adriaan Strauss this week unexpectedly announced that he would not be available for test rugby after the 2016 season.
Rapport, City Press’ sister newspaper, has learnt that Strauss’ Springbok contract could be awarded to Marx from 2017.
The SS Rugby Union (Saru) hopes this move will make Marx think twice about playing rugby overseas at the end of the year, like so many of South Africa’s other rugby stars.
Marx is seen as the Boks’ first-choice hooker for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. This consideration, together with the lessons learnt from his predecessors about clinging to the captaincy for too long, are said to have influenced Strauss’ decision.
The 30-year-old hooker has already been playing rugby for a year longer than he initially planned. Before he was appointed as the Bulls’ Super Rugby captain last year, Rapport reported that he was already considering announcing his retirement after last year’s World Cup.
“I took a 100% rugby decision,” the Boks’ 57th captain said.
“At last year’s World Cup, I realised that it was [in that tournament] where teams are truly weighed up and distinguished from one another. That’s why I didn’t want to hang around much longer. But I did think I could continue to make a positive contribution to Springbok rugby in 2016 if I really wanted to.”
Strauss realises the importance of Marx and Bongi Mbonambi being given the opportunity to gain enough test experience before the next World Cup.
Strauss said he spoke to friends, among them former Springboks, before he made a final decision about his test career. He still wants to be available for the Bulls and to see to his business interests, although there are already overseas club teams that have expressed an interest after his announcement.
The timing of his decision may, however, be questioned.
The Boks are in the middle of their Rugby Championship campaign. Their next test is against the Wallabies on September 10 in Brisbane, and they will then have to fly to Christchurch for their show-down against the All Blacks.
However, informed sources in the Springbok camp say the timing of the decision is meant to be to the advantage of the Boks, because there is no good time to make such an announcement.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee now has enough time to decide who his first-choice hooker will be and who will captain his World Cup side in three years, said sources.
The Springbok camp also wants Strauss to help train his successors before he plays in his last test later this year.
“I know Adriaan as a player who always wants the best for the team,” Coetzee said.
“He has helped the younger players and leaders through the system in the knowledge that they need opportunities and experience at test level,” said the coach.
Selecting a new captain will not be an easy choice for Coetzee. Saru has requested that the captain stay in South Africa for logistical reasons, which cuts Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw’s chances in half.
Warren Whiteley, Juan de Jongh, Oupa Mohoje, Frans Malherbe, Lood de Jager and Handré Pollard are seen as the other strong contenders for the captaincy.
It’s also uncertain if Coetzee will again consider a hooker like Bismarck du Plessis, who has been playing excellent rugby for Montpellier since he moved to France after last year’s World Cup.