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Peel allays fears over Coetzee's injury issue

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster attack coach Dwayne Peel has moved to allay fears over Marcell Coetzee's surgically repaired knee.

The star Springbok hasn't played in almost a year and has managed just five games in his two seasons at the northern province since joining from the Sharks in 2016.

Reports of his showings in pre-season training had been encouraging, but the 27-year-old was not among the squad of 33 that took on Gloucester in the first warm-up game on Saturday where a youthful panel put in a spirited display before ultimately falling to a 29-17 defeat in Chris Henry's testimonial.

Peel, however, suggested there was nothing untoward in the absence and believes Coetzee may see action against Wasps in the final friendly on Friday night.

"He has been training and hopefully he will get a run (this) week," said the former Wales and Lions scrum-half.

"We won't take as many players to Wasps. There'll be a few guys returning for us so it'll be a bit of a different team.

"Stu McCloskey, we did not play him (against Gloucester) just to give him another week and Johnny McPhillips will come into the show this week hopefully.

"We will take less numbers, we won't be taking 33. Obviously guys need game time coming into the season and hopefully some of those will get it (this) week."

With results little more than academic until the PRO14 season begins with the visit of Scarlets on September 1, Peel was able to take positives from his side's showing last weekend, especially with so many players making their first appearance in the senior side.

The hosts didn't see much of the ball in the first half, which at least gave new defence coach Jared Payne a chance to road-test his more aggressive structures, but they trailed by only two points at the turn.

Academy flanker Marcus Rea had dived over from close range for their first score while Nick Timoney, again impressive, also went over in the opening 40 after a nice skip pass from the largely composed Michael Lowry. With tighthead prop Tom O'Toole getting around the park well and centre Stewart Moore, only months into his pro career, showing a real hunger to get involved, it was an encouraging opening.

Two more debutants, the 17-year-old Bangor Grammar pupil Aaron Sexton and James Hume, combined nicely to put the latter over in the second half, where new signing Billy Burns made an eye-catching display before hobbling off with a groin injury Ulster hope is only a minor strain.

Gloucester's greater experience told in the last quarter however, ending with five tries.

"I think if you look at the two teams, we exposed a lot of young guys," said Peel. "We're really pleased with them, to be fair to them. They've been excellent during pre-season, they've worked really hard and they got their chance to wear the shirt and I think they didn't let themselves down.

"They worked really hard for us and there were elements of the game that were really good. We put a pretty experienced Gloucester side under pressure on occasions and it was a good hit out."

The pre-season will receive a boost today with the belated arrival of new head coach Dan McFarland after the end of a stalemate between the IRFU and SRU.

In the former Connacht coach's absence, Peel has had to shoulder more of the load but believes the preparation for the new season has been smooth.

"It has been good," he said of the added responsibility. "I have enjoyed that side of things.

"It is pretty much as it was just I had a few more meetings to deal with. After last year, the cohesiveness of the coaching group has pretty much carried on from there with Jared looking after the defence and Aaron (Dundon) has had to step up as well. If anything it probably has been harder for him as he has had to do the whole side of the forwards thing.

"I have enjoyed it. The boys seem to be working hard and they are coming in with a smile on their faces so that is what counts, if they are happy hopefully they will play well."

ULSTER 17

GLOUCESTER29

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