Cape Town - Marcell Coetzee’s reinvention
this season as one the Springboks’ most valuable pack members has been
confirmed by statistics.
The Sharks dynamo alternated between
blindside and open-side flank in the recently-concluded Castle Rugby
Championship, a situation partially brought about by injuries first to
franchise colleague Willem Alberts (he played no role in this year’s
tournament) and then, more recently, Francois Louw.
But whether he was wearing No 7 or 6 for
the Bok cause, the versatile Coetzee was both constructive and industrious as
he relived some of the personal form first displayed when coach Heyneke Meyer
blooded him at Test level in 2012.
Stats produced by Opta from the 2014
Championship - won again by New Zealand despite their dead-rubber derailment
by South Africa at Ellis Park - reveal that the 23-year-old was second by a
whisker to legendary All Blacks captain and flank rival Richie McCaw for most
McCaw, 10 years his senior, topped the pile
with 77, just one ahead of Coetzee who had the disadvantage of starting one
match fewer; he was a substitute in the second clash with Argentina at Salta
when veteran Juan Smith started and made no notable impact.
Third was Australia’s captain and own
fetcher Michael Hooper (73 tackles), with a three-pronged share of fourth
between New Zealanders Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock and the Boks’ evergreen
Victor Matfield (56 each) – a decent achievement for the 37-year-old
considering that defence has not traditionally been branded one of his best
Other Bok “top tenners” included Jan
Serfontein (53 hits), Eben Etzebeth (52) and Duane Vermeulen (50).
For the moment, Coetzee’s starting SA place
seems reasonably assured, as Bath-based Louw will stay absent for the
four-match European tour in November, even though Alberts is expected to be fit
to lay fresh claims to the blind-side role in conditions that usually suit his
physical brand of rugby.
His success in various departments in the
Championship, however, was a reminder that next year - when the Test season
culminates in another World Cup - Coetzee could make it very difficult for
Meyer to simply re-assemble his perceived “first-choice” loose forward alliance
of Louw, Alberts and Vermeulen without first pausing to think whether that
really is the right mix ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing