Marcell Coetzee deserves all the praise and recognition coming his way following a couple of tough years on the sidelines, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
In the space of three years Coetzee has gone from to contemplating retiring from rugby to looking like a sure pick for the Springboks’ World Cup squad. It’s a massive tribute to his resilience as a person, as a lesser mortal may have decided to call it quits after all the career-threatening injury setbacks he has suffered.
Coetzee, who last turned out for the Springboks in 2015, suffered an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury in 2016 while playing for the Sharks in Super Rugby, before picking up two more serious knee injuries during a stuttering start for new club Ulster in the Pro14.
Coetzee played four matches for Ulster in the 2016-17 Pro14 season, before only playing one match in the 2017-18 campaign. It looked like his career had shone a bright but brief light.
However, after fully recovering from all his knee problems, which included many painful hours of rehabilitation, Coetzee had a season to remember for Ulster and one that has put him firmly back in the Springbok conversation.
It’s going to be a massive surprise if he doesn’t add to his 28 Test caps next month in the Rugby Championship, while, on current form, he also deserves to make the trip to Japan in September to play in the World Cup.
‘It [the injuries] did have a big effect on me. I’m very passionate about playing for the Boks. Once you’ve had a taste of playing in the green and gold, it’s like an addiction and you just want to experience more and more,’ Coetzee said in January.
‘The injuries have obviously put me back a bit, and there are players who have really taken their chances in the meantime. But the challenge for me was to take the injuries in my stride, and just get on with it.’
And Coetzee certainly got on with it. After playing five matches in two seasons, he featured in 16 matches for Ulster this past Pro14 campaign, and was prominent in the statistics that mattered.
The one thing that makes Coetzee such a special talent is his ability to do almost every job required of a back-row forward … and do it extremely well.
The indefatigable loose forward was right up there for turnovers won, tackles made, carries and even offloads stats. That’s basically a No 8, blindside and openside rolled into one.
In a match against Connacht he made seven turnovers in 55 minutes, the joint most recorded by Opta stats in a Pro14 match. Against Edinburgh he also made a record 26 carries (yes, 26!).
Bok boss Rassie Erasmus looks like he is favouring a starting loose trio combo of captain Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen. Coetzee would be a wonderful option off the bench, because he can play in all three positions in the back row.
But he shouldn’t just be looked at as an all-rounder who can make an impact off the bench. He deserves a crack at a starting position. He has worked hard enough to earn it.
Let’s all raise a glass to Coetzee’s comeback. Here’s to more injury-free matches for the Springboks!
Photo: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images