Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - It is fitting that it occurs in the same year that a
certain Schalk Burger, one of Newlands's favourite sons, almost
certainly brings down the curtain on his illustrious, widely-travelled
and roughly 17-year professional career.
But it can be said with
increased confidence, I feel, that another restless, furiously combative
loose forward, in the shape of Jaco Coetzee, has arrived as a genuinely
Super Rugby-quality factor for the Stormers - and with future potential
above that level - in 2019.
There will always only be one Schalk
Willem Petrus Burger in the minds of many Capetonian supporters and
Springbok-loving ones from further afield, of course.
he started throwing himself at rucks or winning dynamic yardage with
little regard for own life and limb in first-class combat at the famous
old venue (in 2003), the charismatic Burger, so instantly likeable away
from the white lines, just seemed earmarked for a torrent of major
From the World Cup pinnacle, they have come in virtually
all landscapes for him (although deep down he will always rue that
Super Rugby title glory never came the Stormers’ way in his yeoman
tenure - including as captain - for them).
So you have to be deeply cautious about tossing around any "new Schalk" mantles at this point.
The likes of him simply don't come around every day; he is an indisputable Bok great.
I also suspect I may not be alone in noticing a great many similarities
in playing style and pure hunger between Coetzee - who turned 23 this
very day - and the blond-mopped Burger of around the same stage in his
development all those years back.
The cynically-minded, after
Coetzee delivered perhaps his premier showing of the entire campaign on
Saturday, may also be tempted to venture "it was only the Sunwolves".
that would also under-estimate the enormity of the value he brought to
an injury-ravaged, rookie-laden Stormers combination against a franchise
who had, remember, already upset both the Chiefs and Waratahs away.
the Stormers were notably imperfect as a combination in eking out the
nervy 31-18 result, it nevertheless took them to within one victory -
Sharks at the same venue next Saturday - of qualification for the finals
It needed someone to assert himself forcefully on the contest to make a vital difference and boy, did Coetzee do that.
it was really also simply his finest, perhaps, of a string of prominent
showings this year: in a season marked by the wild inconsistency of
South African teams and also plenty of individual players, the
Pretoria-born competitor has been vibrant and constructive with
virtually every start he's had.
So thoroughly deserving of his
player-of-the-match mantle on Saturday, Coetzee ended it looking the way
Burger frequently enough has through the years: bloodied, patched-up
but utterly unbowed.
As with his revered predecessor, the former
Glenwood High School (Durban) pupil once again showed off his
hard-grafting engine and stamina, and similarly seems to play so much of
his rugby on the edge ... usually in the most positive of senses.
Slowing down in intensity just seems an alien concept to him.
whether stationed at open-side flank or eighth-man - already very much
demonstrating the loose forward positional versatility that is another
Burger hallmark - is a feisty factor over the ball for turnover
purposes, and extremely quick to attend defensive rucks.
also not just about earthy aggression and muscle; for attacking
purposes he has encouraging speed off a standing start, and on Saturday
sold a wonderful little dummy en route to one of his two tries.
his vital statistics (almost 1.90m, some 108kg) suggest that he could
even do duty with some assuredness on the blindside if required, his
already evident ability to police either of the other two loosie spots
influentially has been invaluable to the Stormers during their current
crisis on the "casualty ward" front.
In the absence of Springbok
and franchise captain Siya Kolisi, for instance, they have been low on
open-side specialists, while Coetzee looking so at home in the No 8
shirt has also compensated hugely for greatly disrupted campaigns to
Juarno "Trokkie" Augustus and also Sikhumbuzo Notshe, who continues to
under-deliver, somehow, on his huge athletic potential even when he is
blessed with fuller fitness.
All going well (Sport24 has sought
an update on his contractual status at the cash-challenged Newlands),
Jaco Coetzee should be a very central figure, I believe, in the new,
John Dobson-led strategic era for the Stormers from 2020 ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing