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The European Champions Cup is ‘very unique and special’, says Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee

FILE - Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee in action during the United Rugby Championship. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

FILE - Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee in action during the United Rugby Championship. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Published May 5, 2022


Johannesburg — There was perhaps a bit of bewilderment from all involved after last weekend’s round of United Rugby Championship (URC) confirmed the participation of the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers in the European Champions Cup, but make no mistake, it will have a massive impact on the game in SA.

That was the declaration of Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee, who knows a thing or two about the colloquially named Heineken Champions Cup, being one of the few South Africans based in the country to have played in that tournament. It was during the 30-year-old’s stint as an Ulsterman, that Coetzee had his first taste of the elite European competition, and the loose-forward is assuredly excited for a second serving.

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Said Coetzee at the launch of the Carling Champions Cup on Thursday: “It is a very unique and special tournament.

“It has a great history behind it — it’s the top French teams, the top English teams, the Irish as well. There is an abundance of teams that you can measure yourself against as a player and as a team.

“We want to be competitive on all fronts,” he continued, “and we will target (the Heineken Cup) when the time comes. There is a lot of rugby to be played before we get there.

“When I was at Ulster and we played in it, it was such a great tournament. It’s like playing international rugby every weekend … I think we as South Africans are going to embrace it and love it.”

Moreover, Coetzee believes that this season’s URC will equip all the SA franchises for the rigours of the premier competition and that those learnings will help them build a solid foundation for their charge in a jam-packed calendar that will also include the Currie Cup.

“Hopefully,” Coetzee said pragmatically, “it doesn’t take too long to adapt to (the Heineken Cup) as it did for the URC.

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“We will brief the youngsters that this is where you become a man against top sides like Toulouse, Toulon, world class players. That is where you want to play your rugby at the end of the day.

“You want to measure yourself every weekend against the best and that is the best that Europe has to offer. They (the European sides) are also going to get a nice bite of the cherry (playing in SA).

“It is going to be a great format and it is going to pull all the fans together. I think you will see a lot of European fans coming to South Africa and they will enjoy and embrace our culture.”

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The Bulls are currently in the throes of a struggle for supremacy for SA rugby. They sit sixth in the URC standings, but if results go their way on the weekend of May 20, they might yet still claim the SA Shield and a home quarter-final in that tournament. They have one match remaining, against Ospreys in Swansea, Wales, that weekend which will decide their fate.

Before that, they have a handful of Currie Cup fixtures to attend to, starting with Griquas on Saturday. In that Cup they are top of the pops, gunning for a third consecutive championship.

“We are very happy,” Coetzee revealed regarding the squad morale ahead of their final matches in the season. “We had to double up with the URC at certain stages with the Currie Cup, and it was always going to be a big sacrifice on the bodies of the players.

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“But look where we are now: We are No 1 on the (Cup) log; we are competitive; and also in the URC.

“It is going to be a tough game this weekend against the Griquas — they are not an easy side. We have them at Loftus and we will take the same strategy that we have been doing recently into that game — we will host them; it will be physical; and we look forward to that.”

The Bulls name their side for that game on Friday.

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