Ulster's worst fears come true as Coetzee needs surgery
Ulster have been rocked by the news that star signing Marcell Coetzee will go under the knife for the second time in the last 12 months. The key back-rower has made just four appearances for the side but looks sure to have played his final game of the season after suffering what the province have described as a "significant" knee injury against Zebre on Saturday night.
The Springbok's capture from the Sharks was a real coup but he arrived this summer recovering from a torn ACL and is now set for another spell on the sidelines with exploratory surgery due next week.
Only then will they be able to ascertain an accurate target for the 25-year-old's return to action, with significant swelling having made it hard to quickly diagnose the exact problem.
It is a bitter pill to swallow for both the side and player.
Ulster struggled through much of their season as they waited for their marquee signing to make his debut but he has been as advertised since togging out against Edinburgh at the start of February.
Since the powerhouse first wore the white of Ulster, Les Kiss' men have won five from five games.
Now, just as they regained their place in the play-off spots, it looks as if they will have to do without him for the crucial PRO12 run-in — and he won’t be alone in the treatment room.
Winger Tommy Bowe had surgery on a fractured ankle yesterday after picking up the injury only seconds after coming off the bench for Ireland against Wales last Friday.
The Monaghan man is set for between eight and 12 weeks on the sidelines.
Even if he were to return at the lower end of that threshold, he would not play again this year unless Ulster found themselves in the knockout stages of the league.
Another blow in a luckless run, Bowe himself is only recently back from virtually a year out of the game.
He suffered a serious knee injury during Ireland’s World Cup campaign in October 2015 and his comeback has ultimately lasted only 14 Ulster games plus two cameos for Ireland off the bench.
There was better news on his fellow wing Andrew Trimble, who broke a bone in his hand against Treviso two weeks ago and also required surgery.
He is expected to make his comeback in four weeks which, with Ulster out of European competition, could see him miss just two games and return in time for the PRO12’s concluding rounds.
Louis Ludik and Stuart McCloskey, meanwhile, are still battling concussion and calf problems respectively.