The Vodacom Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee accentuates the positive in cultish. It doesn’t matter where he plays, he is popular and the way he plays is fashionable.
Coetzee played for the Springboks as a 21 year-old. He was outstanding for the Cell C Sharks in his early years as a professional, even better for Ulster and he has led the Vodacom Bulls with aplomb since returning to South Africa.
The Vodacom Bulls President Willem Strauss, on Twitter, posted the following: ‘In June 2010 Marcell Coetzee (19) was playing club rugby for Durban Collegians u20s. He had not played Craven Week (the interprovincial SA Schools competition), he was from a non-traditional rugby school and he had no professional contract. In May 2012, he played his first Test for the Springboks, aged 21!! If ever I needed inspiration to continue our club, youth, under 20 etc. pathway programs!’
Coetzee has been a revelation at the Vodacom Bulls because he did not return to South Africa to play out his career. He came back to make a statement, and it is one that coach Jake White has always believed should end in a national recall.
That it hasn’t just yet is not a deterrent for Coetzee, who may divide his time next season between the Vodacom Bulls and Japanese club rugby.
White, the 2007 Springboks World Cup-winning coach, is a disciple of Coetzee’s.
‘He was outstanding all season,’ said White. ‘I’ve consistently reinforced the message that his time will come again for the Springboks. ‘I’ve told him to keep on being himself, playing the way he does because the way he plays means he is always knocking on the door of the national selectors. He is too good a player to ignore. I was very surprised he was not in the Springboks alignment squad. All he can do is keep on playing as well as he is doing. I am just glad he does it for us (Vodacom Bulls) every weekend.’
Coetzee, who played 106 matches for the Cells C Sharks in all competitions and 57 matches for Ulster, said: ‘I played for Ulster for five years and I’ve seen what it does for a team and how better you get as a player, how you develop new techniques. Now, as South African teams, we have the privilege of playing in the URC against Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Italian teams, whose players are right up there in physicality and their unique side they bring to the game. The new URC tournament format is good for South African teams, especially because it is travel friendly and the players are enjoying it because of the cultural variety.’
Given the South African showdown, there won’t be much of a cultural shift in Pretoria on Saturday and there will be a familiarity for Coetzee as he again does battle with the jersey he first wore as a professional player.
But for Coetzee, there will be no sentiment, and his only loyalty is to the jersey he wears on the day.
White, for one, is happy that it is Coetzee who leads out the Vodacom Bulls and not Coetzee, who fronts as captain of the opposition.
‘You want him in your team and we are fortunate on Saturday that he is with us and not against us.’