Marcell Coetzee’s debut performance for the Bulls had all the hallmarks of a player with a point to prove, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
As worrying as it was to see Duane Vermeulen limp from the field after suffering an ankle injury on Friday night, it was equally encouraging to see a potential backup player in Coetzee produce a thoroughly dominant display against the Stormers.
Coetzee has been out of action for several months due to an injury of his own, but the manner in which he seamlessly slotted into action for the Bulls speaks volumes about a player who had more than enough incentive to deliver the goods at Loftus.
If fit, it was always expected that the 30-year-old would form part of the Bok squad for the upcoming British & Irish Lions series, and Friday’s performance certainly eradicated any doubts about his match readiness.
Coetzee has been through enough periods of injury rehabilitation to know how to go about transitioning from ‘recovery’ to ‘game mode’. In fact, it was more like ‘beast mode’ on Friday.
From a Springbok perspective, Coetzee’s value is exponentially heightened by his ability to quite comfortably play in any three of the back-row positions should the need arise.
And, if Vermeulen were unavailable, he would be the closest to a like-for-like replacement as an industrious ball-carrier, robust defender and being a constant threat at the breakdown.
Although injuries have led to a stop-start Springbok career, Coetzee also has plenty of experience on his side, having still featured in 30 Tests, while he played against northern-hemisphere opponents for several years during his time with Irish club Ulster.
On Saturday morning, pictures emerged of Duane Vermeulen wearing a moon boot, and the results of scans to his ankle will be nervously awaited to determine the full severity of the injury.
The first Test against the British & Irish Lions is exactly seven weeks away, so there could still be a chance that the World Cup-winning No 8 will recover in time for that Test-series opener on 24 July.
Yet, the Bok coaches can at least take some semblance of comfort from the knowledge that they can call on Coetzee should the need arise, particularly in light of the serious injury to another No 8 contender, Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
Of course, there could also be the option of deploying other heavy hitters such as Jasper Wiese or Dan du Preez, but it would be a big ask of players with such limited experience of international rugby.
Coetzee has quickly become critical to the Bok cause, whether that be in offering a somewhat similar alternative to Vermeulen, or by offering immense versatility as a replacement option on the bench.
Following Friday’s clash, in which Coetzee finished the match as the Bulls’ stand-in captain in the absence of Vermeulen, it was certainly no surprise to hear coach Jake White hail his performance as ‘unbelievable’.
‘He’s literally gone from arriving at the club and not knowing anybody, not knowing the calls and the gameplans … and the next thing you know, he’s the captain.
‘The feedback I got from the players was that he was unbelievable in the way he led them and spoke to them. He played 80 minutes and has just come back from a long-term injury. He was phenomenal.’
Such a display of fitness and form could not have come at a better time, and suddenly his stock value has very quickly rocketed through the roof.