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Cape Town – Ulster’s firebrand, versatile loose forwardMarcell Coetzee could help provide the Springboks with healthy depth in that department at the Japan-staged next World Cup in 2019.
So says one of the most qualified authorities to speak on the player, former national coach Heyneke Meyer.
Allister Coetzee’s predecessor over a four-year tenure, Meyer introduced the ex-Sharks favourite to Test rugby as a just-turned 21-year-old in his first season at the helm in 2012, quickly making him a key part of his furniture.
All of his 28 caps thus far came under Meyer’s watch, and he would have sported a greater tally – remember that SARU have a 30-caps-or-more policy for overseas-based to represent the country, unless in a World Cup year – but for a badly-timed knee injury against Argentina in August 2015 that scuppered his RWC dreams that season.
More recently, Coetzee has been plagued by further knee issues, including the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament rupture, but he made a surprisingly stirring competitive comeback for the Irish club in their PRO14 opening fixture against the Cheetahs on Friday.
The Potchefstroom-born combatant was robust and forceful in general play and did his bit at the breakdowns too, helping another South African in former Durban colleague Jean Deysel to earn broad ascendancy over the Cheetahs’ loose forwards in a 42-19 triumph.
It did not massively surprise Meyer, an unashamed admirer of the rugby package Coetzee offers.
“I realised even when he was a 20-year-old (starting out at first-class level) what unbelievable all-round attributes he brings,” Meyer told Sport24 on Monday.
“Marcell at his best can walk into any international side … I really believe that.
“At school he mostly played as an eighth-man, but with his exceptional work-rate I felt he could do the business for the Boks as an open-side (flank).”
More often than not, Meyer was proved dead right on that score, although he also employed him occasionally as a blindsider when he used the likes of Francois Louw or Heinrich Brussow in the No 6 jersey.
It is his very adaptability across the trio of loosie berths that, Meyer feels, helps make him an ongoing, appealing package for the Bok cause, even if it is not until the next World Cup or its build-up period.
“We have some good guys again in loose-forward stocks at present,” said Meyer, “but you can never have enough decent loosies.
“That versatility, even if he is perhaps not renowned so much as a lineout jumper if you ask him to play seven, makes him appealing in a squad and he adds to Allister’s (current Bok coach Coetzee) scope for World Cup possibilities in the department.
“He certainly adds depth to your plans, and he can be an impact man as well with his full-blooded approach; he is an unbelievable ball-carrier and very good on the ground.
“He still has lots to offer (aged only 26) … he is one of the toughest guys I ever coached, and a bigger unit than some may appreciate.”
Meyer agreed that Coetzee was not dissimilar to now Saracens-based Test veteran Schalk Burger in his broad approach to the game, plus ability to make light of pretty serious injury setbacks to roar back.
“Yes, he is all over the place, with great mental resolve, and like a young Schalk for the way he dives into (the fray), not caring too much about the consequences for his body.
“Like Flo (Louw) he will benefit more and more from the experience of playing in the northern hemisphere’s different landscape where they are so clinical at the breakdown, for example.”
*Fresh off their triumph against the Cheetahs, the next challenge for Coetzee’s Ulster outfit is against Italians Benetton Treviso away on Saturday.

 

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