Cape Town – Is Marcell Coetzee, one of the brighter young
guns introduced by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer this season, destined to
suddenly become a “supersub”?
It would be cruel if that is the sort of role he inherits in
the short- to medium-term, because it would be at least partly attributable to
the commendable versatility he offers – a loose forward capable of operating
seamlessly at any of No 8 and open-side and blindside flank is always going to
be an asset in bench terms.
At the same time, Meyer will be acutely aware that the
21-year-old has been one of his most full-blooded and energetic forwards as a
member of the starting XV in all but one of the Test matches in 2012 thus far.
The situation is complicated a little, however, by the fact
that the Sharks player, in all that time, was also acclimatising to the
hitherto fairly unfamiliar role of No 6, when most of his early first-class
career for the Sharks has been predominantly in a blindsider capacity.
In a nutshell, Coetzee has looked as though he can tick most
of the overall skills boxes required of an international loose forward -- with
sound temperament into the bargain -- but is also perhaps not best suited to
being the designated, primary fetcher.
When he was “demoted” to the bench for the first time by
Meyer for the Castle Rugby Championship match against the All Blacks in Dunedin
last Saturday, the coach rightly made it clear that Coetzee had played a lot of
rugby and travelled more kilometres than most this season – clearly implying
that there was a strong rotational element to his decision to field Francois
Louw instead in the No 6 shirt.
Subsequently, of course, a pleasant predicament has been
created: Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen dovetailed pretty effectively
as the loose trio against the world champions, and as part of a Bok pack which
broadly commanded an edge on the day despite the 21-11 loss.
Meyer may well be reluctant, as a result, to tamper too much
with his eight, especially as Bath-based Louw did a spirited job in slowing
down the All Black game at the breakdown and doubles as a strong ball-carrier,
whilst Vermeulen is starting to find his feet as a Test player at No 8 after
his many months on the crocked list.
Coetzee’s “crime” as a substitute – he replaced Sharks
colleague Alberts in the 62nd minute – was to provide the
sought-after late impetus; he certainly threw himself into tackles with relish.
Meyer may well persuade himself that the same loose forward
brew is the right way to go against Australia at Loftus next weekend, meaning
Coetzee is curtailed to the bench once more.
At the same time, he is also probably the best “flair”
player of the loose forward quartet who did duty for varying stints in Dunedin,
and on the Highveld his pace and deft off-loading ability could come in
extremely handy right from the outset.
If Louw does earn a second start on the trot as open-sider,
it would hardly be the daftest act in the world if Coetzee found a fresh
starting berth at either No 7 or 8, would it?
The national coach loves muscularity and a hard edge to all
his “loosies”, and the 106kg Coetzee is hardly a shrinking violet in that
Yet there’s probably a better-than-even chance that the
status quo will prevail: Meyer is well-disposed toward the notable physicality
served up by Alberts as blindside flank and may, again, seek a bruising hour
out of him against the Wallabies before pulling off the big unit and taking
advantage of Coetzee’s dynamism for 20 minutes or thereabouts.
It is not a situation Coetzee would want (or even deserves?)
at this juncture but at the same time most critics would concur that, with his
best rugby years still well ahead of him, the Potchefstroom-born youngster is
going to start plenty more matches for his country anyway ...
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