Reaction to Marcell Coetzee speech at Ulster 'a measure of the man'
"It was a measure of the man that he is and the respect that he had within the group."
In the end, the whispers and murmurings were confirmed. The Bulls did not help the cause by waving a giant Marcell Coetzee-sized flag, over on Twitter, but it only quickened the pace of proceedings. The big man, it was soon confirmed, was headed back to South Africa.
Coetzee will depart a season early from Ulster than was originally intended, but he craves a spot in the Springbok squad to take on the British & Irish Lions, next summer. Having missed out on two World Cup campaigns already, and enjoying a sun-kissed taste of home during the Covid-19 pandemic, his mind was made up.
On House of Rugby Ireland, host Ian Madigan spoke about the impending departure of his Ulster teammate (listen from 15:30 below) and the speech Coetzee made to the entire squad before the announcement was made official.
Coetzee did not play in Ulster's 32-19 Guinness PRO14 victory over Connacht, on Sunday, during which Ian Madigan kicked 22 points. However, he is expected to start the home game against Munster, next Saturday.
"Certainly, it’s disappointing for the players and for all the supporters," Madigan began. "The reason it’s disappointing is because he has been such a good player, and he’s been so good for Ulster over the last few years.
"Marcell came in, during the week, and he asked to speak to the player group. He stepped up and spoke really well, and he gave his reasons why he wanted to go home. And I think it’s really important to note, he is going home. He’s going back to his home country to play for a club in South Africa.
"It's been tough, especially through the last year and the lockdowns. Being away from home, away from family. Guys relate to that, and Marcell was straight up with the group, which we all really respected. And he gave his reasons.
"The energy he brings, across the board, in training every day… every time in games, he’s the guy that is leading from the front. So the respect we have for him is through the roof.
"Generally, when a player gets up and announces he’s leaving, it’s kind of a stoned silence and then you move on with the meeting. But he got a seriously big round of applause, which I thought was a lovely touch. But it was also a measure of the man that he is and the respect that he had within the group. And even afterwards, with guys going up and hugging him and saying, ‘Let’s make the most of this season and really enjoy that. Let’s not focus on any of the negatives that might be out there'."
Considine believes it is hard to blame Coetzee for wanting to go back home, albeit being a tough pill for Ulster fans to swallow. On him being up front about his Springboks ambitions, Madigan said:
"It’s also important to note that he’s been unlucky. He missed out on the World Cup in 2015, he was unlucky with an injury before the 2019 World Cup. He wants to go back and really be part of that Lions Tour, and live it with the South African players and then continue on with one of the South African franchises.
"It was funny, during his speech he actually mentioned, 'It’s going to be really s*** playing against you guys in The Rainbow Cup.' And somebody shouted out, 'It’s going to be really s*** for us!' But, look, it’ll certainly be an interesting one, playing against him, next season."
During his appearance on House of Rugby, last week, Coetzee spoke about his desire to help Ulster win a trophy. Should they get that win over Munster, next weekend, they will back themselves to top Conference A - ahead of Leinster - and have another Guinness PRO14 Final crack.
YOU CAN WATCH THAT FULL EPISODE HERE:
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Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts, and has already featured interviews with Brian O'Driscoll, Nigel Owens, Sean Cronin, Shane Williams, Mike Brown, CJ Stander, Ugo Monye, Sene Naoupu, Schalk Burger, Dan Leo, James Lowe, Marcell Coetzee, Ciaran Griffin and Ian Keatley.