Malcolm in the middle of the action, making his mark for Lions

Front-rowers are not expected to outperform the loose forwards to be the turnover king in Super Rugby. But Malcolm Marx is an exceptional talent.

The Lions hooker lead the turnover stats with a massive 22, five of which came in their playoff match against the Jaguares last weekend; those efforts were vital as the South African side made their third consecutive Super Rugby semifinal.

Marx is an explosive player with ball in hand, as he uses his raw power to break tackles and make metres. His lineout throwing has also come along nicely since struggling on his Test debut for the Springboks against the All Blacks in 2016.

But the ferocity with which he fights for the ball at the breakdown has enhanced his reputation even more, and Marx is now considered to be the premier hooker in world rugby and one of the best players on the planet.

Those skills weren't honed overnight, however. Marx played most of his schoolboy rugby on the side of the scrum, and he moved to hooker only in his final year at the King Edward VII School in Johannesburg. That was only four years ago.

"Obviously I see stealing the opposition's ball as another part of my job," the media-shy Marx told media ahead of Saturday's semi-final against the Waratahs at Ellis Park.

"You try and stick your head in a couple of rucks at training and get cleaned out a few times.

"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. When there is an opportunity you try and take it.

"I did play seven in high school, but when I got to matric I moved to two. I sort of wanted to play the same role, obviously a bit tighter though."

The Waratahs will go into the semi-final without their ace fetcher, Michael Hooper, who also missed last week's playoff match against Highlanders with injury. That battle would have been one for the ages, but New South Wales showed last week that they could cope without their fearless leader. They still have plenty of firepower in their arsenal, including a backs division of stars who want nothing more than to see Marx on his back rather than slowing down their ball.

"They are obviously very dangerous off quick ball, but it's not only me who can slow the ball down," Marx said. "There are 14 other Lions players on the field as well. It's going to take a massive team effort and we are looking forward to the challenge." Marx, though, doesn't seemed to be fazed by all the attention going his way, and he prefers the 'team-effort' line whenever he is confronted with a question about his stellar rise in the game and being perceived as one of the top rugby players on the planet.

"I'm obviously very humbled, but it is not about me," Marx said.

"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."

But when he plays, the Lions are certainly a much better team.

The hooker missed three games this season after being sidelined by a hamstring injury for six weeks, but his absence, which also saw him miss the Springboks' three-Test series against England, seems to have refreshed him as he has been playing non-stop rugby for the past couple of years.

Now it's all about doing the business for the Lions and helping the team reach their third successive Super Rugby final.

"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," Marx said.

"It's not nice sitting on the sidelines and watching. Unfortunately injuries are part of the game. I'm just happy to be back on the park."