Missing out on a Rugby World Cup winners’ medal due to a cruelly timed minor injury had to be the most painful experience of Marcell Coetzee’s career, but he says he had to “put my pride in my pocket” for the sake of the Rainbow nation.
Having fought so hard to attract the attention of South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus, Ulster’s back-row forward was back in the fold over the summer and in contention to start for the Springboks in the World Cup, until he picked up an ankle injury in a warm-up win over Argentina in Pretoria.
It wasn’t serious, but it was significant enough to end Coetzee’s World Cup dream before the tournament had even started in Japan.
Two months later he was attending a charity fundraiser in the Europa Hotel in Belfast as he watched his team, his friends, his country, beat England to win the Webb Ellis trophy for a third time.
“I think it is a bit of mixed feelings but at the same time you are so happy for your friends,” he says.
“They had worked so hard as a team the squad as a whole in the past few years. I was so proud for the Nation.
“The bigger picture at the end of the day was that it was massive for South Africa and for me as an individual, I have to put my pride in my pocket and say ‘well done guys’.
“I just cheered them all the way towards the final and glad they brought it home for South Africa.
“There is great positivity and hope now back in the nation that was lacking a bit and I was just all round happy.” Coetzee was at the fundraiser with Irish rugby legend Willie John McBride, who captained the Lions to victory against South Africa in 1974.
“We watched it on a big screen... I must say in the first half there was a lot of England supporters, but by the second half there was a lot of South African supporters! It was good to see that.”
Ulster take on Clermont tomorrow night knowing a home win, on top of last week’s rousing 17-16 win at Bath, would leave them handily placed in their pool after two games.
Coetzee admitted the Bath game was “definitely” the most physical game Ulster have played this season, his personal highlight a brilliant steal on the deck against England’s celebrated flanker Sam Underhill.
However once again they had to settle for less ball and rely on their well-drilled defensive systems to inch them to victory — a trend that head coach Dan McFarland admitted is “unsustainable” for much longer.
“I think we did let ourselves down very much in attack and going into this weekend we really want to create some great opportunities,” Coetzee said.
“Not just for the forwards but for the backs as well. We have got dangerous strike runners and we want to get them into the game.”
Clermont shrugged off some indifferent Top14 form to stick 50 points on Harlequins at the weekend, but the French have never enjoyed their trips to Belfast and haven’t won in two visits.
Still, no danger of slippage from Ulster, who have no intention of loosening their grip.
“Look, we are far away from the play-offs you know, but there’s no chance we will ease off.
“We really want to just grow as a team and as this tournament progresses we want to grow.
“I think the biggest emphasis this weekend is now getting our attacking mindset and looking forward to the challenge that awaits us.
“And just fronting up.”
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