'Marcell Coetzee was outstanding... that big powerful beast of a man' - Andy Friend 2 months ago

'Marcell Coetzee was outstanding... that big powerful beast of a man' - Andy Friend

There was a time, not so long ago, that you didn't want to ask for a fitness update on Marcell Coetzee. It brought the mood right down.

Ulster, it was clear, had signed a class act.

"When we first signed him," said Ulster captain Rory Best, "we knew how good he was. When we played them (South Africa) in the Aviva and he handed off (Jamie) Heaslip, those moments, that's the sort of player he is."

Ulster fans got all too brief glimpses of the South African back row - five appearances in his first two seasons - and it would have been understandable if the province looked elsewhere for a foreign player to make an impact. They kept faith, however, and they have been rewarded.

Coetzee is over his knee issues and has been pure, destructive class for Ulster all season.

He has played 22 times so far and could yet make two more outings. 295 tackles stuck, 293 carries made (for 471 metres), 28 turnovers won, 27 offloads and four tries scored, including the nail in Connacht's coffin on Saturday night.

Following his side's Guinness PRO14 quarter final elimination to Ulster, Connacht head coach Andy Friend marvelled at the sheer brute force of the Springbok.

"I thought Coetzee was outstanding today; that big powerful beast of a man that we were probably looking for something like that. We’ve got a few players that may be able to do that but for various reasons we haven’t seen this year.

"So yeah, that’s something that we need to try and find in the pre-season and into next year. You can just see the damage that someone like that does. We don’t have that physicality there at the moment."

On Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, Barry Murphy and former Ulster star Andrew Trimble [from 9:15 below] spoke about what a fully firing Coetzee brings to the party.

"Marcell Coetzee was unbelievable," observed Murphy, and Trimble was quick to add his praise.

"Obviously that Ulster back row is pretty handy and the pack was going well but, no matter how good you are, you just need that spark. Marcell brings that spark. He just turns slow ball into quick ball. For his try, as well, he had no right to score that!"

Coetzee scores a 76th minute try against Connacht. (Photo by John Dickson/Sportsfile)

Best, speaking after his side reached the PRO14 semis, spoke very well on what foreign imports - ones that cannot become Irish qualified - should bring to the provinces.

"We were joking [after the match]," Best began, "that if I get it on the front foot we can get parity and if I get it on the back foot we end up going way backwards. Marcell gets it, no matter what foot he's on and he makes yards. Ultimately, that's what your foreign players should be, big players that have big moments in big games.

"He's a fantastic guy and the encouraging thing is the way the other backrowers play off him. We know how good Jordi is but Nick Timoney and Sean Reidy, even the Rea brothers, Greg Jones they watch him and see what he does and try to emulate that. Again your foreigners, that's what you want from them.

"One of the reasons I love rugby is because it is about the team but there is no doubt that when it comes to play-off games at this level against an opposition of the quality of Connacht, you need big plays. Big players make big plays. Marcell will win collisions that most people in rugby just can't win. I thought Connacht did a good job in their defence but both him and Iain Henderson consistently won collisions there and that's so important. He's just loving playing his rugby, that's the biggest thing for him."

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland was asked the inevitable question, post-match, about Rassie Erasmus calling Coetzee up for the Springboks' extended squad ahead of the World Cup.

"Next question... ," McFarland deadpanned before saying, "No, Marcell is a great player and he wants to play for his country and that's a great thing for any player.

"We would always encourage that and we would always went to see our players representing their country to the best of their ability."