Marcell Coetzee says he is happy to be back in the Springbok fold as he prepares for his first Test start in three years against Argentina on Saturday.
Coetzee will start at No 8 for the Springboks in their World Cup farewell match at Loftus Versfeld, a match which will act as a final opportunity for players to prove themselves before the World Cup squad announcement on 26 August.
It is the first time the 28-year-old will start a game for the Boks since the stunning loss to Argentina in Durban in 2015.
‘It has been phenomenal,’ Coetzee said. ‘If you would have asked me a year ago whether I would be sitting here, I would have said no way. It has been a great journey for me so far.
‘A year ago I was thinking about retirement with the continuous niggles that I had. Being back in the mix with the Boks and being with your friends and soaking up everything – I want to enjoy every moment.’
The start marks a remarkable comeback for Coetzee, who had struggled with successive knee injuries since joining Ulster from the Sharks in 2015. At a stage, it looked as if Coetzee’s playing days were in jeopardy, let alone his Test career.
‘There is one thing you can’t control and that is injuries,’ Coetzee said. ‘The rehab stages were vital. It is rugby, it’s a physical sport and a contact sport. Sometimes people get injured without taking contact, it is the way of the game.
‘The biggest emphasis was the rehab with the ACL. It is a nine-month injury, so it is a lot of patience and hard work.
‘When I think back it was this moment, sitting here playing for the Boks that kept me getting up all the time. Chasing a dream that is bigger than yourself was something that ultimately pulled me through. My faith also played a huge role in this, the support of my family and friends helped me get on the horse again and keep on fighting.’
Coetzee added that playing for Ulster has made him more mature and allowed him to work on weak points of his own game.
‘I have picked up a lot of experience playing abroad. Obviously those first two seasons did not go as well as planned. I think I am a bit more mature in how I handle things now. I have played a lot at No 8 for Ulster, so that helped me work on a lot of weak points.’