Thu, 13 Aug 2020

Gutsy Marcell comes full circle for Boks

15 Aug 2019, 22:10 GMT+10

Cape Town - Argentina? On South African soil? Pitch those images together to Marcell Coetzee and "calamity" - both personal and team-wise - is bound to come instantly to his mind.

So maybe there is something fitting in the fact that, on Saturday, the bustling Ulster loose-forward effectively completes a full circle for the Springboks when he runs out for the Test against the very same Pumas at Loftus, hoping for vastly different fortunes.

He will be among three UK-based Boks earning important opportunities to nail down their tickets to the looming World Cup, along with Saracens tighthead Vincent Koch and Northampton scrumhalf Cobus Reinach.

But the clash carries special poignancy for former Sharks favourite Coetzee.

It will be his first start for South Africa (some 34 days ahead of RWC 2019) since a corresponding, tumultuous Durban fixture against the same foes in August 2015 in which ill-fortune was a particularly pronounced occurrence for him.

The backdrop was so similar, even if the encounter then was within the similarly abbreviated Rugby Championship that year, rather than just beyond it - there were around 40 days to go to RWC kick-off in the United Kingdom, and preparations by then-coach Heyneke Meyer in full swing.

But the fairly experimental Boks suffered the ignominy that day of a shock 37-25 reverse to the fired-up Argentineans, a first ever (and still only) home setback to those foes.

To add to the woe from Coetzee's perspective, specifically, the blindside flank on the day (he had shared a loose trio with Heinrich Brussow and, a little unusually at No 8, Schalk Burger) hobbled off in the 66th minute with knee ligament damage.

Then a highly promising 24-year-old marauder who had first been identified for Test duty by Meyer in his maiden Test as coach against England in Durban back in 2012, it was enough to put paid to his dream of featuring in a first World Cup.

Nor was it the end of his injury-related woes ... not by a long shot.

His earliest days on Ulster's books in Ireland were marked by appalling ill-luck with ongoing, knee-related problems, including the dreaded "Full Monty" of the anterior cruciate one being among ligaments to rupture in successive instances - both involving the necessary, near year-long drudgery of painstaking rehab.

In that respect, Coetzee may take some inspiration from current Bok colleague Pieter-Steph du Toit, resting this weekend but the revelation of the past year or more as No 7 flank after his conversion from lock: the present SA Rugby Player of the Year has also bounced back from two ACL disasters earlier in his first-class career.

Those long layoffs go a considerable way to explaining the Potchefstroom-born player's almost total absence from the Bok picture in the last four years, a drought broken only thus far by his 20 minutes off the bench for the eventual champions in the first-round Championship triumph over Australia at Ellis Park a few weeks ago.

Then, he replaced debutant Rynhardt Elstadt, although the pair are placed together in the starting loose trio Rassie Erasmus has opted for in his sweepingly-altered team this weekend: Coetzee has an educative outing at eighth-man, where he could yet be the most suitable RWC understudy to Duane Vermeulen despite the similar versatility offered by Francois Louw.

Although competition for loose forward tickets to the World Cup is strong - when isn't it, in South Africa? - Coetzee may need to do little more, given his already proven reputation at the highest level, than put in a workmanlike, suitably durable shift on Saturday to confirm his readiness for that four-years-stalled RWC call-up for him.

He will be an attractive squad factor in Erasmus's mind, you can be fairly sure, because of his comfort in all three loosie berths, which makes him a dream utility factor amidst a broad group negotiating faraway climes.

Competitive juices seldom run modestly in Coetzee, so he may well be hugely assertive against the Pumas on Saturday, buoyed additionally by memories of that bleak reverse to them on the KwaZulu-Natal coast four years back.

He will be one of four survivors in the starting line-up from that occasion, as Koch, Jesse Kriel and Lood de Jager also experienced that nasty little jolt ...

Saturday's Test at Loftus Versfeld is scheduled for 17:05.


South Africa

15 Warrick Gelant, 14 S'bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits (captain), 1 Thomas du Toit

Substitutes: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Frans Steyn



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