Marcell Coetzee deserves the opportunity to play himself into the Springboks’ World Cup squad by featuring in the shortened Rugby Championship, writes DYLAN JACK.
At this stage, Rassie Erasmus is likely to have 80 to 90% of his World Cup squad finalised, and probably already knows what his starting loose trio will be in the Boks’ opener against the All Blacks at the showpiece tournament.
The trio of captain Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen served the Springboks well in 2018, and barring injury should start against the world champs on 21 September.
However, those three will need support, and there could be another two or three positions available for loose forwards, depending on how Erasmus balances his final squad. One of those needs to be taken by Warren Whiteley. It’s been evident this season just how much the Lions have missed his leadership when he has been out due to injury.
Even with those four, the Springboks still lack an ‘all-rounder’, who will be able to rotate between all three positions should the worst happen. That is where Coetzee comes in.
As one of the most promising players on the Test circuit during his formative years with the Sharks, Coetzee saw his international career constrained by a couple of serious knee injuries that limited his involvement after his arrival at Ulster.
Coetzee made a meagre five appearances in his first two seasons in the Pro14. To the Irish club’s credit, they kept faith in their signing, and are reaping the rewards as the 27-year-old returned to full fitness and in prime form.
For the first time in three years, Coetzee has been able to complete a season relatively untroubled by injuries, making 15 appearances out of a potential 21, helping Ulster to reach the semi-finals of their domestic competition for the first time since 2016.
The apex of his year so far came in Saturday’s playoff against rivals Connacht. While Ulster eyes were turned on veteran Rory Best, who made his final home appearance after announcing his impending retirement, Coetzee stole the spotlight with a Man of the Match performance that included a decisive try and 24 carries.
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) May 4, 2019
Prior to that match, Coetzee admitted that while he was still desperate to earn a recall to the Springboks, he had not received any contact from Erasmus. It is understandable why Erasmus would opt for younger local players in Marco van Staden or Cyle Brink, especially with Coetzee extending his stay in Ireland until 2022 when he will be 31 years old.
However Coetzee, through hard work and sheer single-mindedness to make it back to the top, has earned the right to at least get a look-in to the Test squad. It is not only his practicality – he is comfortable at 6, 7 or No 8 – that could add to the Springboks.
By overcoming his injuries, which could have resulted in any player giving up, Coetzee has shown a mental fortitude that the Springboks could definitely draw from in a tournament that will see them pushed to their limits.
A shortened Rugby Championship, which sees the Springboks play three Tests before an additional Test against Argentina, allows the perfect opportunity to get Coetzee involved.
It would be criminal for the Springboks to ignore a player of Coetzee’s talents, especially as he gets set to play in the prime years of his career.
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