Although the British & Irish Lions tour is fast approaching, Marcell Coetzee is fully aware of the need to remain focused on the task at hand as he captains the Bulls in Saturday’s Rainbow Cup final, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It’s certainly been a whirlwind few weeks for Coetzee, who joined the Bulls from Ulster, completed the final stages of injury rehabilitation, and then headed straight into action for the final two rounds of the Rainbow Cup SA competition.
The injury to Duane Vermeulen then saw Coetzee unexpectedly handed the captaincy, and he will now lead the Bulls into battle against Benetton in Treviso.
And although the 30-year-old just missed out on selection in the Springboks’ extended squad for the Lions series, the Bok coaching staff have made it clear that they’d rather like to see him gain more game time with the Bulls.
Should there be a need to call up a replacement for Vermeulen, it is widely expected that Coetzee would be the automatic choice.
However, on the eve of the Rainbow Cup final, the dynamic loose forward reiterated that he is determined to just stay in the ‘present’.
‘I must say even after the [Bok squad] announcement and everything, my focus has been purely on the Bulls. We have had some big targets to hit, so the main emphasis has been to keep on track and focus on what I can control.
‘Once you make things about yourself, you can head in the wrong direction. So this is all about the team environment and I just want to contribute wherever I can at the Bulls.
‘It’s a tremendous honour to be here playing for the Bulls. It’s a great union with a winning culture, and I just want to do the jersey justice. I’ve had to pinch myself a bit after being handed the captaincy, but there is a great group of guys here, and we’re looking forward to the final now.’
It now remains to be seen whether Coetzee could face the B&I Lions in the colours of the Bulls when the two teams meet on 10 July, or whether the Springboks may opt to call him up for national duty before then.
‘The Lions tour only comes around every 12 years, so whether you’re playing for your franchise or the Boks, you want that chance. It will be a phenomenal experience, and every South African player has aspirations to face Lions with all the tradition behind that team. I’ve looked back at clips, and there is just so much culture and history with the Lions.’
And while the prospect of leading the Bulls in a Rainbow Cup final against Benetton would surely have been unimaginable for Coetzee several months ago, his experience will be of utmost importance to the Pretoria-based side on Saturday.
‘I said to Marcell earlier that it’s really great to have his experience,’ Bulls coach Jake White commented. ‘He played for a strong Ulster side that has come here before and struggled to beat Benetton. So he’s got incredible knowledge to share about what we should expect.’
In that regard, Coetzee said his message to the team at Friday’s captain’s run was very clear.
‘It’s all about driving emotion levels in the right direction. There are a lot of young players who haven’t been exposed to this sort of occasion, and it will come down to a winning team temperament and who wants it most.
‘So I’ve just said to them that they should relax, be calm and enjoy the journey. We might have to go to some dark places, but I’m sure we will be ready for that.’