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Class act Coetzee gives Ulster the X factor, says Ferris

By Jonathan Bradley

As a man who wore the Ulster six jersey with such distinction, few are as well placed to gauge the impact of the province's latest back-row star as Stephen Ferris, and the former British and Irish Lion has been mightily impressed with what he has seen so far from Marcell Coetzee.

Arguably Ulster's most talented forward of the professional era, Ferris has proven impossible to replace since his injury-enforced retirement in 2014 but Coetzee's arrival has brought back some of the attributes absent from the Kingspan outfit's pack in recent years.

After arriving with ACL damage, the burly South African made his long-awaited debut in the home victory over Edinburgh two weeks ago and backed up that impressive introduction with a man-of-the-match performance against Glasgow on Saturday.

And while it is early days in what is a three-year deal for the Springbok, his predecessor Ferris thinks the initial signs all point to his stay being a big success.

"What he's doing now, is exactly what Ulster have been missing over the last six months," said the Lisburn man of his first impressions of Coetzee.

"It's been a good start, he hasn't been thrown in at the deep end with Clermont away or anything like that, even Bordeaux at home or one of the more physical games.

"But he's doing a great job and he's a fantastic asset.

"I know (Operations Manager) Bryn Cunningham was really eager to get him in there because he brings so much to the team.

"He's a physical animal, he relishes the contact, the physicality.

"He's said that himself, he's a guy who likes the confrontation and long may it continue."

In his first outing in Ulster colours, Coetzee racked up more carries than any other Ulster player since such stats have been recorded, with Ferris hoping to see his old side start to utilise the 25-year-old's carrying ability outside of the tight exchanges.

"Twenty six carries in 56 minutes, that shows he's a guy that wants to take responsibility," added the 35-times capped international.

"He works hard, he gets round the corner and he's always looking to carry.

"I'd love to see him develop the game in the next few weeks so that he gets into the wider channels.

"Imagine him running against backs rather than into brick walls."

Ferris himself knows all too well the patience required when returning from long-term injury and expects to see Coetzee carefully managed over the coming weeks, with breaks built into his calendar as well as the upcoming off weeks for the Six Nations and Champions Cup knock-outs.

He would, however, like to see last Saturday's loose-forward trio of Coetzee, Sean Reidy and Chris Henry - Les Kiss's presumed first-choice combination - deployed together as much as possible.

"I think he'll probably play another game and then get a rest, just because of how long he's been out. Against Glasgow, it just seemed like a switch flicked," he said.

"Sean Reidy is a great footballer and loves open games.

"Someone like him, he gets around the pitch really well and it's perfect for him.

"Marcell can do the hard yards in tight and Chris was getting involved at the breakdown.

"The balance there now is very good. I wouldn't want to shake that up.

"I'd try to get them together as much as possible over the next few weeks."

If Kiss does resist the temptation to rotate his back-row for Sunday's trip to Zebre, changes elsewhere seem inevitable.

Louis Ludik is undergoing the return to play protocols after taking a heavy blow against Glasgow but centre Darren Cave is sure to be ruled out with concussion while the province could welcome back Stuart McCloskey.

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