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Coetzee could be surprise selection for the Bulls

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Coetzee was a popular member of the Ulster team between 2016 and 2021 and played many a derby against Leinster. The 33-year-old hinted in a media conference that he might be graduating from water boy to playing in a URC semi-final.

Marcell Coetzee of the Vodacom Bulls. File Picture: Steve Haag Sports, INPHO, Shutterstock (14308921m)

Marcell Coetzee could be a dark horse selection for the Bulls in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship semi-final against Leinster, and his experience would be vital given his rich understanding of rugby in Ireland.

Coetzee was a popular member of the Ulster team between 2016 and 2021 and played many a derby against Leinster. The 33-year-old hinted in a media conference that he might be graduating from water boy to playing in a URC semi-final.

Coetzee had surgery on a knee injury in April and it looked like his season was over, but with the Bulls’ season extending two matches beyond the regulation 18 rounds, he is on the cusp of readiness.

He has been conspicuously active over the last fortnight as he reprises another illustrious former Springbok’s job of carrying the water, Rassie Erasmus.

Speaking of his injury, Coetzee said: “As the season progresses, teams do get a lot of injuries and it is never ideal. You want to be on the field, you want to be with the boys and share those moments, but then your role changes …”

Coetzee has had his share of serious injuries over his career, and he says he has learnt to remain positive. “You have to tell yourself that you can contribute off the field. That’s what I’ve been trying to do these last few weeks, being the water boy as well.

“My team manager joked with me that I must be the highest-paid water boy at the Bulls, but rehab has been going well, so you never know, maybe I will be available soon.”

Coetzee learnt his rugby at the Sharks Academy where he enrolled out of high school at Port Natal in Durban. It is not a fashionable rugby school and he never had a look-in at Craven Week level for the Sharks.

He has said that by having no recognised pedigree he had to work harder than his rivals and maintain an attitude of determination and hunger. At Ulster, his attitude made him as popular in Belfast as another Sharks old boy, Ruan Pienaar. He says he learnt quickly about how tough Leinster can be.

“If you talk about Leinster, the first thing is the international experience they have,” he said. “They are very good at player retention. Their squad keeps growing and that helps them to be so consistent, season after season.

“And they haven’t been doing it just in the URC, they’ve been doing it in the European Cup and they’ve been doing it for the international side,” Coetzee said. “If you look at the Leinster line-up, it is not far off the Ireland team.”

Coetzee says that it is Leinster’s conversion rate in the opposition danger zone that makes them so dangerous. There is no slicker side at turning opportunities into points. At the end of the day, when they enter your 22, they leave with points,” the flank said succinctly.

But as much as Coetzee and coach Jake White have been talking up Leinster, the Bulls proved two years ago in Dublin that anything can happen in a knockout game, when they shocked the home team. “It’s play-offs. The encouraging thing for us is that we are growing from season to season – a year ago we were out in the quarter-finals, and now we have managed to take that next hurdle.

“That comes with the pressure, and that comes with the privilege to be under that pressure. Everyone in the squad, player and management, is going to have to take that one step up for whatever is coming this week.”

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