Rugby Championship

Boks: Marco v Marcell for RWC '19?

2018-08-23 06:30
Marco van Staden
Marco van Staden (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - One with an established, classy Test pedigree, but particularly rotten luck with injuries for some three years.

Another who is considerably younger, bursting with potential ... but with only 20 minutes of international activity beneath his belt so far.

But it is just possible that Ulster's Marcell Coetzee and home-based Marco van Staden of the Bulls will find themselves competing for one Springbok squad spot amidst the usual, decently-stocked cupboard of loose-forward options by the time next year's World Cup in Japan comes along.

They have much in common in their open-side styles of play - well-built, abrasive, fearless, high work-rates - even if the more experienced Coetzee, of course, offers versatile possibilities on the blindside and at No 8 as well.

Seeing just one of them grace what would be a maiden RWC in each instance is far from guaranteed at this point; both going is even less likely, you'd think.

But there is time yet for an engrossing "shootout" between them for regular Bok recognition, in some respects, despite the fact that they ply their first-class trades thousands of kilometres apart.

Van Staden, 22, has a lot more to prove in Test-level terms, and his education will intensify if - as many expect when coach Rassie Erasmus reveals his hand on Thursday - he earns a first-time start against Argentina in Mendoza this weekend (Saturday, 21:10 SA time).

Not a lot could be learnt when he debuted for the final quarter of the Durban meeting between the countries last Saturday - veteran Francois Louw was substituted - although he did earn a determined turnover right on full-time.

At worst, Van Staden should get another run off the bench in Argentina.

But even if he starts ticking international boxes with increased vigour, the dynamic rookie could soon be faced with another obstacle in the months to come as Coetzee, barring any further medical setbacks, works spiritedly to make up some lost ground.

The former Sharks favourite - now 27 so a long way from over the hill - has earned 28 caps, all under the Bok coaching tenure of Heyneke Meyer, and having made his debut as a 21-year-old in the 2012 season.

He played some stirring games against some of the best sides on the planet, but then his enduring hoodoo first struck in August 2015, when he tore anterior cruciate knee ligaments against the Pumas, scuppering his World Cup dream in the UK that year.

Coetzee joined Ulster in 2016 but his knee-related woes only continued, to the extent that he has played only five matches for the Irish team in two seasons.

But a few weeks ago it was reported that he should be fit again - after another frustrating, extended period of rehab - in time for the start of the new, imminent European season.

So often a rip-roaring factor in the tight-loose when able to operate at full steam physically, the 114kg Coetzee will hardly lack visibility back in his land of birth as two South African sides now play in the PRO14 graced by his club, so it is followed much more keenly here these days and regularly televised.

Ulster play Llanelli in their first fixture in the competition, and soon afterwards tour here to play the Kings (September 16) and Cheetahs (September 21).

Now the Stade Francais head coach, Meyer insisted to me in a conversation last year that Coetzee "can walk into any international side at his best", and if he does have the luxury of a fast, jinx-free start to his 2018/19 campaign, there is still every chance he will challenge earnestly to resurrect his Test career.

Van Staden, for that reason and among others, needs to grab every chance he might get in the remainder of the Rugby Championship to hammer down his own Springbok stake ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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