DYLAN JACK looks at how the confirmed departure of loose forward Jaco Coetzee could impact both Western Province and Bath.
It has for some time been reported that a number of senior WP players have been hesitant to enter negotiations for new deals with the union until there is certainty about long-term sustainability on and off the field.
This came in the fallout of Province’s failed negotiations with American consortium MVM Holdings, who has instead opted to invest in the Sharks in a landmark deal for South African domestic rugby.
In turn, this has led to fears that WP Rugby could suffer from a ‘player exodus’, despite head coach John Dobson insisting in December 2020 that ‘every single player has indicated a desire to stay’.
The first of these big exits has now taken place, as Western Province confirmed on Monday evening that Coetzee was released early from his contract to take up a move to Bath, who he will be linking up with in March.
Coetzee’s departure leaves a massive gap for Western Province and the Stormers at both openside flank and No 8. Injuries have largely affected Coetzee during his four years as a senior player, restricting him to 22 caps for the Stormers and 36 caps for Western Province.
However, the 24-year-old boasts top quality as a player, with his ability as a fetcher and breakdown disrupter allowing him to play a natural opensider’s role. His ability in the carry has also made him stand out over the past year and he was certainly in the Springbok conversation.
The issue is that Western Province don’t have too many experienced loose forwards who can do what Coetzee does. Siya Kolisi’s heavily rumoured departure to the Sharks – if it does take place – would open up a massive gap in depth at openside flank. Nama Xaba, who was genuinely outstanding in Super Rugby Unlocked before his ankle injury, is likely to be the next in line. The 21-year-old Marcel Theunissen, who made his debut for the senior team after a number of fantastic performances in the U21 Championship, would be looked at thereafter.
Western Province deserve some credit for not standing in Coetzee’s way and allowing him to grow further as a player. What is clear, is that Bath could make Province’s loss their gain as they may have pulled off a coup of a signing.
It is interesting that in their official media release announcing Coetzee’s signing, Bath identified the loose forward as a No 8 rather than an openside flank, where he was likely to continue playing if he had stayed at Western Province.
Coetzee has effectively been signed as a replacement for Bath’s star academy product, Zach Mercer, who will be leaving the club to take up a move to France with Montpellier.
Mercer, a fan favourite at the Rec, will be leaving big boots for Coetzee to fill. The 23-year-old has a 90% tackle completion rate so far this season, while he has made 81 carries in six appearances, beating a total 19 defenders.
Coetzee could also find himself filling in for Taulupe Faletau during his first month at Bath, as the Wales international will be on Six Nations duty.
Bath find themselves in a tough position after winning just two of their opening seven Premiership matches. Defence is a problem for the English side as they are currently on a three-match domestic losing streak, having conceded 136 points during this period.
This is an area where Coetzee can most certainly contribute as he has a reputation as a tough tackler and breakdown menace. Coetzee himself can most definitely benefit from the change of scenery, especially with the knowledge that Bath’s coaching staff will be keen to invest in his growth.
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