Hooking strength down for SA teams

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Rugby writer Rob Houwing said on sport24.co.za, "Flying the local coop to more lucrative deals in northern climes has become a depressing but inevitable phenomenon across the positions, of course, but hooker is one of those key, spinal berths in a rugby team where longevity and wisdom at the art is especially important.


"So central in a broadest sense to the pack, the modern hooker is massively responsible for a shipshape lineout with his throwing-in function, smack at the fulcrum of the scrummaging effort, a manager and carrier in rolling mauls, and often a supplementary 'fetcher' of no small value into the bargain."


Most significantly, for the Lions at least, Malcolm Marx, 25, has been granted a sabbatical in order to keep him available for next year's British & Irish Lions tour.


He is spending his break in the less rigorous atmosphere of Japanese club rugby with the Shining Arcs.


Carrying the load for the Lions until his return will be Pieter Jansen, 24, who is in his second year of Super Rugby after making four appearances last year.


Last season's best-placed South African team, the Bulls won't have Schalk Brits on hand. Jaco Visagie, 27, who debuted in 2015 and who has spent time at Gloucester and Toulouse, has rejoined the side.


Also likely to come into contention are former Southern Kings hooker Edgar Marutlulle, 32, and 22-year-old former South Africa Under-20 star Johan Grabbelaar.


The Sharks Akker van der Merwe is now playing for Sale in England. They will offer more chances to Kerron van Vuuren, 24, who debuted for the side last year and who has made 15 appearances for them.


The Stormers are much better placed, so long as they avoid injuries. World Cup final starter Bongi Mbonambi is still available while Scarra Ntubeni is also in contention.


Mbonambi, 29, has been with the side since switching from the Bulls in 2015 while Ntubeni, 28, has been with the side since 2011 and has played 66 games for the side.


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