Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has backed his talisman Marcell Coetzee to earn a Springbok recall next month after another star turn in the province’s win over Ospreys in Wales on Saturday evening.
The bruising number eight was a try-scorer at the Liberty Stadium and earned man of the match honours as the northern province secured a second win in two games to start their 2020/21 campaign.
Coetzee, who has 30 caps for his country, hasn’t appeared in a Test since August 2019, a game in which he suffered the knee injury that ultimately ended his hopes of making it to a World Cup in Japan ultimately won by Rassie Erasmus’ side.
It is not yet clear if travel restrictions and lack of recent action will allow South Africa to compete in the Rugby Championship next month - a decisions is due this week with an RSA statement saying on Saturday that “several hurdles needed to be cleared if it is to be confirmed” – but if they were to ‘bubble’ in Australia and Coetzee was included, he could have played his last Ulster game this side of Christmas.
Despite the potential to be without his key man for such a long period of the season, McFarland wants to see the 29-year-old’s stellar form rewarded.
“I really hope Marcell gets into the Springboks and I hope he plays every game for them,” said the head coach whose Ulster side have benefited massively from his return to fitness over the past two years. “He deserves it.”
“Marcell loves South Africa, loves his country and he loves Ulster. The ultimate goal for rugby players is to represent their country and get Test honours.
“He missed out on a World Cup and I’ve no doubt he would have been at that World Cup and he would be a World Cup winner now.
“He missed out and it was just the fact that an Argentinian had fallen on his ankle that he didn’t do that.
“He deserves to play for his country and when you look at South Africa you’ve got a lot of guys who haven’t played much rugby and Marcell is playing rugby and he’s playing well.
“I really hope he gets picked for his country and gets a shot at those Test matches.”
Should the former Natal Shark be lining up against the best of the southern hemisphere between November 7 and December 12, his absence would be keenly felt back in Belfast, not least with the first rounds of the Champions Cup to come before Christmas, but McFarland has backed others to fill the sizeable void.
Marcus Rea was the latest to stake a claim in Swansea, carrying impressively and working hard throughout his first senior start, after David McCann looked good on debut a week prior against Benetton.
With Jordi Murphy yet to feature, Sean Reidy in good form, and Nick Timoney and Gregg Jones further options, McFarland feels he has the depth to cover.
“We’ve got a lot of really good back-rowers here,” he added.
“They’re not called Marcell but all of them are unique and they’ve got their abilities and there are fellas chomping at the bit.”
Coetzee was joined in crossing the whitewash by Jacob Stockdale and John Cooney. Two of Ulster’s undoubted star men in recent years, both have come in for criticism of late, the latter missing out on the Six Nations squad announced by Andy Farrell.
Scores aside, the pair looked considerably more like themselves.
“They’re big game players for us, aren’t they?” said McFarland.
“Jacob’s got a massive left boot on him and he’s got a wonderful break and acceleration and pace that makes him very difficult to tackle.
“I thought John Cooney had a really good game and played really well. He played really well against Benetton too and I was really pleased with him.
“(The criticism), we talked about it. If we think someone is going to benefit from talking to you when they’re having a tough time, we have the conversation.
“You have to smell it out, you have to use your senses, sometimes guys want to be left alone to work it out.
“They’re working on through.”
Another of McFarland’s big names to enjoy a good game at the Liberty Stadium was Iain Henderson, although the skipper blotted the copy book significantly with a red card five minutes from time after clashing at the ruck with Ospreys full-back Dan Evans.
Should he face any further ban, Henderson would miss the resumption of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign next weekend.
“I genuinely couldn’t see the finer detail on the big screen,” said McFarland. It looked to me like he clipped his chin and by the letter of the law that is a red card. But the bottom line is that Hendy doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body.
“Whether the video shows something different I don’t know but it’s really unfortunate for him because it’ll have been a total accident if it was what (the referee) saw.”