Ulster's Marcell Coetzee eyeing up a return after injury woe
Having managed just five games for Ulster over the past two seasons thanks to a luckless run of injuries, Marcell Coetzee believes he is on track to start pre-season alongside his team-mates this summer.
The 28-times capped Springbok arrived in Belfast two years ago with a torn ACL and has had to endure two further surgeries since, the latest of which ended his season less than an hour into the campaign.
And while the province have dearly missed his bulldozing presence in the back-row, all the more so for how impressive he had looked on the rare occasions he was fit to take the field, the recently turned 27-year-old believes he will be raring to go for 2018/19.
"It''s been a long process," he admitted. "You know, a bit of bad luck went my way. But it's seven months post operation now, with another two months of rehab to go and then I'll fall in with the other players for pre-season.
"Just to be among them will be a sigh of relief for me and, hopefully, it continues to go well so I can play that first game.
"It's mentally challenging to come to a new club and you want to give back what they invest in you and then bad luck comes your way.
"It's character building at the end of the day, I've learnt a lot about life in the last two years.
"It has all been very frustrating, this past year watching the boys play.
"But I've just been trying to support them, whether it's helping a young guy or helping a little bit with the breakdown work.
"I'd just like to thank the general public for their support."
By the time Coetzee does take to the field again in an Ulster jersey, hoped to be the pre-season friendly with David Humphreys' Gloucester side in August, it will be under the third different head coach of his time in Belfast.
Former Glasgow and Connacht forwards coach Dan McFarland is set to take the reins as soon as he can free himself from his contract with Scotland, where he has been working under Gregor Townsend. While finding fitness is Coetzee's primary concern this summer, he is looking forward to the opportunity to work with McFarland.
"From what I've heard, he's a very professional coach, a very interesting guy," he said.
"I personally don't know him, but the whole club is looking forward to working with him to start a new process and culture building for next season.
"As a forward you will always be more excited if you hear a forwards coach is coming because you know we as players, at the end of the day, we just don't want to stay the same, we want to keep learning, evolving as players.
"Looking at his CV and what he has done, he has made a difference wherever he goes, you know, for Scottish rugby as well.
"It will really be interesting and it is a good opportunity to be working with him, to be honest."
While Coetzee will play no part in the contest himself, before Ulster can look forward to next season there is the small matter of a Champions Cup play-off with Ospreys to negotiate.
The game, to be played a week on Sunday at Kingspan Stadium, will decide which team takes the final place in Europe's top tier next campaign.
"We have to secure a place in the Champions Cup firstly, that would give us a lot of confidence going into next season knowing that we're still competing with the best in Europe," said the former Shark. "I think in general we've had a lot of stuff following us the last couple of years, we just want to focus on our rugby now and grow in general.
"I haven't played much in two years so I can't tell you on the pitch, but being a spectator there is a culture there, it's a culture to be proud of, it's phenomenal facilities, good medical guys, everyone must just be confident, passionate and move forward in one direction to hear what the new coach has to say and buy into his plan."