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New recruit Coetzee feels at home after his first taste of life in Ulster

By Jonathan Bradley

His Kingspan debut may still be some months away but new signing Marcell Coetzee arrived in Belfast yesterday and was immediately impressed by what he saw.

The South African flanker has signed a three-year deal ahead of this season but tore an ACL during his final months with the Sharks in Super Rugby.

The diagnosis back in April called for a nine-month recovery period but, even though it will be close to the New Year before he makes his Ulster bow, the 25-year-old and his wife Chanelle jetted into George Best Belfast City Airport for a two-week taste of their soon-to-be new home.

Director of Rugby Les Kiss was on hand to greet the couple off the plane while a whistle-stop tour of the Kingspan Stadium and an introduction to some of his new team-mates followed.

"I just want to get familiar with my surroundings," Coetzee said of the fortnight-long visit. "I've spoken with a lot of the guys and it's very welcoming so far. I'm just getting settled in, learning about the culture, learning about Ulster and familiarising myself with team-mates."

The province have a long and successful history of recruiting from the Natal side where Coetzee made his name with Ruan Pienaar, Franco van der Merwe, Wiehahn Herbst and Louis Ludik all playing there at one time or another, while former stars Johann Muller and BJ Botha both joined from Kings Park. The latest in the line admits it should make his transition easier.

"They've been excellent so far," he said of his fellow former Sharks, even if Herbst quickly took to social media to joke that this wasn't typically the time of year to wear a winter coat in Belfast.

"While I was in South Africa we spoke the whole time. That makes it a lot easier for me but I'm also looking forward to bonding with the rest of the guys. It sounds like there's a unique culture here and I'm really looking forward to being a part of it."

With Charles Piutau also bolstering the playing squad this season, Operations Director Bryn Cunningham pulled off a one-two punch of noteworthy transfer coups and Coetzee was clear that the former full-back played a huge role in getting him to sign on the dotted line.

"There was just something about the passion with which he spoke about Ulster. He said they were starting something very special and as a player that's what you want in your career. You want to be part of it," he added. "Since arriving here, it's all true what he said. I'm really looking forward to it."

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