Leinster v Ulster: The magnitude of Coetzee's role
SPOTLIGHT: Ulster may start as the odds-on underdogs this weekend against Leinster in the PRO14 final, but if they are to have a chance, much of their forward momentum will come down to their “clutch player” – Marcell Coetzee.
Springboks loose forward Coetzee’s performance in the semifinal didn’t go unnoticed, and the player that Ulster had invested so much into after his first two injury-plagued seasons, delivered when it mattered against Edinburgh.
But Coetzee’s fighting spirit, overcoming two ACL injuries, surgery and missing two World Cup squad selections at the last moment, yet still returning week after week to put in inspirational performances for his club shows a pedigree that Ulster will need this weekend if they are to upset the odds.
“He’s a courageous man,” Ulster coach Dan McFarland said when asked about the Springbok loose forward.
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Coetzee played just four games in his first season for Ulster, and only one in his second. Both knee injuries required surgery, and Coetzee just returned and asked for more.
McFarland underlined his worth by putting him in a league of players who know when the moment is big, they will deliver.
“He doesn’t win many man of the match awards, but that is because John Cooney wins so many of them isn’t it. He is a massive player. Physically he is massive but he also makes clutch plays and in those games, you need clutch players,” McFarland said.
“Johnny Sexton is a clutch player. When you need him to kick a penalty to the corner and land it five metres from the line he just pulls it out the bag. Marcell, when you need a jackal he just pulls it out of the bag.
“In the last 20 minutes when you need a number of muscular carries, he will do that for you. He works tirelessly for us and he is a great man to have around as well. He is what a lot of psychologists would describe as ‘social blue’.
“He doesn’t lead in the sense of telling people what to do the whole time, but he has a way about him that pulls people together and makes people feel as if they are part of it, and they are important. I’ve got a lot of respect for Marcell.”
Coetzee’s leadership skills, his carrying game and the ability to snaffle ball when it matters will be key for Ulster this weekend.
Big games require big players, and in Coetzee Ulster know they have one of the best.