Rugby Championship

Coetzee: Best Bok tackler

2014-10-10 15:31
Marcell Coetzee (Gallo Images)
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 tackles completed.

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 suits.

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 ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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