Marcell Coetzee’s imminent return to action could slot in as another important piece of the Springboks’ preparation puzzle for the British & Irish Lions tour, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
At the age of 30, Coetzee has been through enough periods of injury rehabilitation to last a lifetime.
In 2015, a knee injury scuppered his chances of making the Boks’ World Cup squad and later a series of recurring injury issues threatened to prematurely end his career.
Four years later, and on the eve of the 2019 World Cup squad selection, the loose forward also suffered an ill-timed injury during a warm-up game against Argentina. He had to undergo corrective ankle surgery, which subsequently ruled him out of action for 12 weeks and thus also out of contention for World Cup selection.
Each time, though, Coetzee has adopted a pragmatic and philosophical approach, and found a way to set his sights on the next career target.
Understandably, the disappointment of missing out on the 2019 World Cup was tempered by the ambition of regaining fitness and form to ensure selection for the British & Irish Lions tour.
As fate would have it, recent injuries have again left him in a frustrating but all too familiar process of rehabilitation and recovery.
And yet, with two more rounds of the Rainbow Cup SA still to be completed, it’s expected that Coetzee will be able to make his Bulls debut and effectively prove his availability for the long-awaited Lions series.
Slowly but surely, the Springbok coaches will have been making up their minds about the ‘core group’ of players they will rely on for the three-Test battle against the touring teams. However, there will be some newcomers who weren’t part of the World Cup journey.
A squad of nearly 50 players have been part of the alignment and preparation camps and, while the primary focus is on the Lions, the bigger picture incorporates planning for the 14 Test fixtures scheduled in the space of five months from July onwards.
This includes warm-up Test matches against Georgia on 2 and 9 July, and these clashes could quite possibly present another opportunity for Coetzee to add further substance to his bid for selection consideration against the Lions.
Of course, there is also the Rainbow Cup ‘North vs South’ final on 19 June in Europe, which looks likely to feature the table-topping Bulls.
At the end of the day, Coetzee’s value cannot be underestimated when taking into account his ability to play across all three back-row positions, while offering physicality, high work rate and a threat at the breakdown. These are strengths that tick most of the Nienaber-Erasmus checklists when it comes to appealing player attributes.
Highly regarded ex-coach Brendan Venter also aptly pinpointed Coetzee’s value in a recent column for Sport24: ‘In terms of replacing the retired Francois Louw off the bench, I reckon a guy like Marco van Staden could feature, while another option is Marcell Coetzee.
‘Coetzee could be a very valuable inclusion because of his experience, particularly against European opposition. Older players, we know, are unbelievably useful, and you only have to look at how he has fought through all of his injury setbacks to see he is the type of person who can benefit the group. Experience is going to be essential.’
As is the case for the entire Springboks preparation process, time is of the essence. And, on an individual basis, this is especially true for Coetzee.
But if the Boks are looking for another back-row warrior to have in reserve, they can’t go far wrong by offering Coetzee a B&I Lions incentive that would make all the injury rehabilitation more than worth it.