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Injured Coetzee set to return for start of new season

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster Rugby breathed a huge sigh of relief yesterday with the news that star forward Marcell Coetzee is aiming for a summer return to action.

The Springbok back-rower has already spent considerable time in Kingspan Stadium's physio room having arrived with a torn ACL that would keep him out for nine months, and there were huge fears that he had suffered a similar injury just four games into his Ulster career after limping off against Zebre two weeks ago.

Having undergone season-ending surgery on Wednesday, however, the player was handed a significant boost with the news that it was a less severe knee problem and he should be back in time for the start of the 2017/18 campaign.

"It really is fantastic news," said Director of Rugby Les Kiss.

"I think most people were fearing the worst, that Marcell had ruptured his cruciate ligament once again, so it's great to hear that he will be back sooner than we initially expected.

"He has had a tremendous impact since he joined the club, not only on the pitch, but also on the training paddock with his huge work ethic and infectious positive attitude.

"It's a great boost for the club, the supporters and most importantly Marcell himself, that we will see him back in an Ulster jersey at the start of next season.

"I have spoken to Marcell and he's really pleased with the prognosis. He is extremely grateful for the care he received from the Ulster Rugby medical team and the staff at the Ulster Independent Clinic, plus for all the messages of support he has received from the Ulster fans.

"I know from the way he faced the challenge of his previous rehab that he will be back even better than before."

Still, Ulster must deal without their big name import for the rest of the season, starting away to Newport-Gwent Dragons tonight (7.35pm).

In his absence, Sean Reidy switches to number 8 with Irish international Iain Henderson back to take on the role of blindside flanker.

Henderson, who played all 80 minutes of the Six Nations win over England last week, is joined by fellow Test star Jared Payne in the starting line-up, although Paddy Jackson will begin the game on the bench.

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