Title hat-trick chasing Leinster won’t agree but if there is one player more deserving than any of a Guinness PRO14 winner’s medal this Saturday night in Dublin it is Marcell Coetzee of Ulster. The trauma the back row from South Africa has had to endure in recent years has been terrible – two devastating ACL injuries, surgery and also missing two World Cup squad selections at the last minute. 

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Yet, he is still standing, his efforts at the heart of helping Ulster qualify for a league title decider few predicted they would be involved in as they faced into a semi-final away at Edinburgh last weekend. 

The match was won at the death by an Ian Madigan penalty kick from distance and Ulster coach Dan McFarland has been effusive in his praise for the role Coetzee has played in squeezing the Irish province through to their first final since 2013. 

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Former Scotland international player and coach Ian McGeechan talks about the British and Irish Lions

“He’s a courageous man,” chirped McFarland about a loose forward who played just four games in his first season for Ulster and then only one in his second when the team was being coached by McFarland’s predecessor, Les Kiss. 

Injuries were the reason for his absence, but he has since repaid Ulster’s patience, Coetzee’s 16 appearances this term at the heart of the progress that has seen them qualify not only for next weekend’s league decider but also the following weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-finals where they face Toulouse away.  

“He doesn’t win many man of the match awards, but that is because John Cooney wins so many of them isn’t it,” continued McFarland. “He is a massive player. Physically he is massive but he also makes clutch plays and in those games, you need clutch players.

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“Johnny Sexton (of Leinster) is a clutch player. When you need him to kick a penalty to the corner and land it five metres from the line he just pulls it out the bag. Marcell, when you need a jackal he just pulls it out of the bag.

“In the last 20 minutes when you need a number of muscular carries, he will do that for you. He works tirelessly for us and he is a great man to have around as well. He is what a lot of psychologists would describe as ‘social blue’.

“He doesn’t lead in the sense of telling people what to do the whole time, but he has a way about him that pulls people together and makes people feel as if they are part of it and they are important. I’ve got a lot of respect for Marcell.”

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