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Coetzee is my inspiration, says Rae after stand out impression to start of new Ulster season

Proving himself: Matty Rea has caught the eye in Ulster’s back row having started every game so far this season
Proving himself: Matty Rea has caught the eye in Ulster’s back row having started every game so far this season
Marcell Coetzee

By Michael Sadlier

Come Friday night and the most certain thing Matty Rea is prepared to say is that the red scrum cap will be gone.

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Whether the 26-year-old will get his fifth straight start when Zebre come to Kingspan Stadium or find himself on the bench for the first time this season now that Nick Timoney and even possibly Jordi Murphy are back is yet to be known but, either way, the borrowed headgear is toast.

"I didn't really like it, and I don't think it's for me," the Ballymena native revealed.

"It's Eric O'Sullivan's and he can have it back."

Rea wore it to protect, as he describes it, his "old ear", and its bright colour meant that he was much more visible than normal, which maybe wasn't such a great idea for any back-rower who must always live on, if not over, the edge of offside.

"Yes, I'd prefer to stay out of the limelight," Rea adds with one final nod towards the scrum cap now back with O'Sullivan.

Generally keeping a low profile will be more difficult to achieve as Rea's work-rate has demanded his inclusion regardless of others not being available.

He has now done three straight 80 minute shifts and, though the first of these was in the humbling at the Cheetahs - he, incidentally, made his debut against the South Africans back in September 2017 - there were big work-rates put in when seeing off the Southern Kings thanks to 18 tackles and last weekend beating Cardiff Blues when he made 10 hits.

"This season has been about building those connections with the other guys and becoming more comfortable working with the team," Rea explains.

"That takes some of the pressure off in that you don't need to go and make a big play to fit in."

Working closely with forwards coach Roddy Grant has been hugely beneficial for Rea - whose younger brother Marcus is also in the senior squad, with the pair notably playing together last season when Marcus came off the bench to score in the home win against Leinster - as has being alongside Marcell Coetzee.

"He's a good guy and he knows his stuff," Rea says of the Springbok, who put in an awesome shift against Cardiff Blues last Friday.

And then there is Coetzee's weekly 'cleaning' and, rest assured, it's not a household chore.

"He (Coetzee) works hard," says fellow back-rower Rea. "He talks about, what is it he says? Yes, 'cleaning house'.

"Every week we work on the breakdown and a guy like Marcell is world class. You know if he hadn't been injured he would be in that South African World Cup squad and about to play in the final."

Rea is clearly a more than willing student to absorb everything he can from Coetzee.

"There's no better guy to learn off," adds Rea. "He's so good with all us guys. He keeps us honest and working hard and we can see how he's got to where he has got to from his training."

Ulster could do with bringing some of Coetzee's consistency to their game as, even though they have won their last two games, both the victories over the Kings and the Blues have seen the side's performance dipping after making promising starts.

"We need to keep that foot on the throat," says Rea, who also does some coaching with home club Ballymena.

"It's about continuing consistency throughout the full 80 minutes.

"When we get into good positions we think we need to finish it on the first go.

"We've talked this week just about going through phases and then eventually gaps will appear and we'll capitalise."

Zebre will come to Belfast in arguably better mood than usual having doggedly put it up to Leinster and kept them down to just 3-0 in Parma. Naturally, Rea bats away any suggestion that five points for Ulster is a no-brainer.

"People will look at that and think it's an easy five points, but you don't get those anymore," adds the flanker.

"I think they'll (Zebre) bring edge, so we need to prepare for that."

Meanwhile, Ulster have confirmed that centre James Hume will miss Friday evening's clash with Zebre after suffering a hamstring injury in last weekend's win over Cardiff Blues.

Fellow centre Stuart McCloskey's availability remains unclear as he is recovering from a shoulder injury.

The 27-year-old has only played in one competitive Ulster game so far this season, away at Southern Kings.

One last hurrah awaits Rory Best next month when the 37-year-old will play for the Barbarians against Fiji at Twickenham before finally retiring from the game.

The match is on November 16 and the Baa Baas squad will be coached by England boss Eddie Jones.

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