Belfast Telegraph

Ulster must get physical for play-off win: Coetzee

 

Battering ram: Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee has hit top form this season after injury problems
Battering ram: Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee has hit top form this season after injury problems

By Michael Sadlier

Though the lineout session has finished, there is still some grafting to be done at the scrums out on the Kingspan Stadium pitch.

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The forwards' work-ons are in full swing while the backs are running defensive plays at the other end of the ground.

It's a dank day to be outside and yet it is obvious, even from a cursory glance, that the players are going about their activities with an energy and enthusiasm that might not always be expected as the season draws towards its end.

But then things have been different at Ulster in this campaign. A new head coach has brought a shift in the dynamic, with Dan McFarland re-instilling a culture and ethic which had become ragged-looking in recent years, while results have also been good enough to get the province into the knockout stages of Europe and the Guinness PRO14.

The latter is at least still a live issue, with Connacht next up in Saturday's quarter-final, but another factor which cannot be overlooked in Ulster's renaissance is the on-field presence of Marcell Coetzee.

The 27-year-old has been a colossus and has broken free from an almost permanent presence in the rehab room to finally deliver on all that had been expected from him when he joined Ulster from the Sharks in 2016.

He has missed just seven games in this campaign which is some going after only playing five times over his first two seasons here due to the well-documented knee issues which, at one point, seemed to threaten the 28-times capped Springbok's playing career.

Coetzee's impact this season has been such that he has been signed up for another three years, taking the powerful back-rower all the way to 2022.

If he can stay fit, Coetzee will repay that faith in his abilities in spades.

His game is based on raw power in both ball-carrying and knocking attackers down as well as jackalling effectively too. In other words, the ideal modern day back-row player.

Unsurprisingly, Coetzee is pretty happy with how things have gone this season.

"The big thing for me has been just getting from game to game without injury," he says.

"It's been going well so far (this season)," he adds, with a hamstring injury in January being the only issue and side-lining him for four games.

"Being a consistent part of it all (this season) has been so humbling for me."

Coetzee clearly feels there is a debt of gratitude which he intends to pay back in full.

"Hopefully you will have seen from my performances this season that I really appreciate that they (Ulster) have been here for me," he states, "and I'm just happy to reward them."

Though he admits that being part of the Springboks' squad for this autumn's World Cup looks to be an unlikely outcome, Coetzee just wants to make sure he is going places in an Ulster shirt.

"My sole focus is on the play-off this weekend with Connacht and we know it's going to be a massive challenge," he states.

"Connacht have got our number after the two times we've played them so we've just got to prepare the best we can."

Hence the focus on scrums and lineouts and bolstering the areas that left Ulster second best back in October, in Belfast, and two months later at the Sportsground. "If you look at those Connacht games from earlier in the season, we have grown a lot as a team," he says.

"The breakdown battle will be awesome so our breakdown focus has to be very good. And our defence must really be up there.

"They play with a high tempo and we just have to match that."

Coetzee certainly won't be taking any backward steps.

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