A stunning start for Coetzee

2011-12-08 00:00

HE was unquestionably the Sharks’ find of the season, an eager, robust back row forward who emerged as a 19-year-old unknown to play in all 16 of their Currie Cup games.

Marcell Coetzee is still pinching himself as he reflects on a year which started with a dream of playing for the Sharks U21 team and ended with four Super Rugby caps off the bench and a full season of Currie Cup action.

What is remarkable is that Coetzee made his mark in the back row where the Sharks had an abundance of talent in four Springboks — Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel, Ryan Kankowski and Keegan Daniel — along with veteran flank Jacques Botes.

Injuries to Alberts and Deysel initially opened the door to Coetzee’s inclusion on the bench in Super Rugby, but he became a key if young member of the Sharks pack in the Currie Cup once players were lost to the Springboks.

Coetzee, wide-eyed and playing alongside his Springbok heroes, made his Sharks debut against the Brumbies in the Super Rugby game played in Durban and won 34-16 by John Plumtree’s team.

“I remember making my debut. It was a few hours before my 20th birthday and while it was nerve-wracking the dream had become a reality,” he told the Sharks website.

“That first cap set the hunger and drive for success.

“Everyone made it really easy for me to fit into the system. They were all eager to help. I just can’t believe it.”

He said he is grateful to Plumtree and the coaching staff for backing him and the other young players in the Sharks squad,

“They helped me a lot and I learned something new every game. The senior players and the Sharks management also really helped me along the way.

“The Sharks have the best system of tracking young players in the Currie Cup. John Plumtree gave me a lot of confidence and backed me all the way. It’s been a wonderful year for me.

“I never even dreamed of playing in the Currie Cup final. My dad and I sat down at the beginning of the season and my goal was to make the Sharks U21s.

“Before I knew it, I was part of the Sharks XV squad [in the Vodacom Cup], which gave me a lot of confidence. From there I played four Super Rugby games and then played every Currie Cup game of the season which was a huge honour for me.

“I didn’t play a single Sharks U21 game and that had been my goal!

“There are many good memories along the way and then the final, even though we lost, also rates highly. I was just so grateful to just be there.”

Coetzee now faces the challenge of continuing to make his mark in the critical second season which, as many battle- hardened players will tell you, is the toughest.

At 106kg and 1,91 metres, Coetzee was a powerful if unknown presence in the back row this year and his committed, forthright approach, both to attack and defence, took teams by surprise.

His opponents, forewarned, will be waiting in 2012 but this 20-year-old will take some holding.

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