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The on-field incident 10 years ago that's still a no go for Marcell Coetzee

By Ian Cameron
Marcell Coetzee of Vodacom Bulls during the United Rugby Championship match between Connacht and Vodacom Bulls at The Sportsground in Galway. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney has described what it is like to play with former Springboks and current Bulls No.8 Marcell Coetzee – branding him ‘an animal’.


The pair played together for a number of seasons for Irish province Ulster, and while Coetzee has moved on to their United Rugby Championship rivals in South Africa, his love of physicality left an impression on the Irish scrumhalf.

This season Cooney has played with Springboks great Duane Vermuelen, so he’s in a good position to judge South African No.8s and what they can bring to the table.

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John Cooney – Broncos, Brad Thorn & Marcell Coetzee | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 34
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John Cooney – Broncos, Brad Thorn & Marcell Coetzee | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 34

“Marcell is an animal. I’ve never seen anything like him. He just loves running over people. He absolutely adores it,” Cooney told the RugbyPass Offload podcast.

“I remember the first time I played with him, he just goes: ‘You see me. You play me.’

“I was like ‘Yeah. No problem’. He’d just run across everyone. He was like ‘You give me the ball’ and I was like ‘Yes sir, whatever you want!’. He just loved running into people and killing people.”

Asked to compare Coetzee and Duane Vermuelen and Cooney suggested that they’re quite different players in some regards.


“They’re different. Marcell just loves contact but Duane has played longer and he’d be more facilitating as a No.8.

“I remember playing Edinburgh and as a No.8, with a left hand scrum, you’re just not picking and going, because you can’t go anywhere.

“But he [Marcell] has seen Simon Hickey, the 10, and he’s small and Marcell goes ‘Just let me go.’

“I was like ‘No Marcell. I can’t. We’re won’t go anywhere here. And he was like ‘No, I have to’ and I said ‘No you don’t have to run him over’. I had to negotiate with him.


“I was like ‘Please. Give me the ball. I’ll find you a carry, I’ll get you a scrum.’ I had to negotiate with him just to get a ball off a scrum, because he just loved it.”

Cooney suggests that Vermuelen is particularly streetwise when it comes to rugby craft.

“If we have penalty advantage Duane will always give you the ball. It’s small things, subtle things.

“The first time I played with him was Clermont away. A pet peeve of mine is when a No.8 catches a kick off and he decides to over the 22 metre line, he’s run a metre outside the 22. As a nine you then can’t kick it straight out if you want.


“Against Clermont he’d [Vermuelen] catch it and I’d be like ‘Stop, stop, stop’ and he’d just fall on the line and I remember thinking I love you. You make me look so much better here. Basically as a nine you can kick it to the touchline as it might just go out, or it might just stay in, and either way you look good. It was just the subtle smarts that not many eights have.”

Returning to Coetzee, there’s just one incident that no player is advised to bring up with the Bulls No.8. as it’s still a sore point nearly a decade after it happened.

A young Coetzee, playing for the Sharks in Super Rugby in 2011, was fended off by Waratahs forward Dean Mumm. Coetzee face-planted into the turf in spectacular fashion and it’s since become a mainstay of many a Youtube highlights video, with  Coetzee on the receiving end of an enormous handoff.

It was rumoured that the clip was played during an Ulster video session and that the 6’3, 115kg forward was not impressed.

“I don’t recall if I was there for that but I know that that hurts him, when it’s brought up. I know I made a joke about it once and he didn’t like it,” said Cooney.


“Marcell’s a legend. He’s one of those infectious types of people. He’s full of energy everyday. He’s like, ‘Let’s go, let’s go.'”

Ulster will face South African opposition this weekend when they take on Cell C Sharks, the first time in history the two sides have met. Vermeulen’s match-up with Phendulani ‘Phepsi’ Buthelezi will make for one of most eagerly anticipated match ups.

Both teams have qualified for the last eight play-offs, but whoever wins at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast this evening will host a home quarter-final and potentially a home semi-final.


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