JOHANNESBURG – Robbie Coetzee has nothing to prove and is happy to slug it out with Malcolm Marx for a place in the Lions starting team.
The almost forgotten 29-year-old hooker made his return to top flight rugby in Singapore last weekend, ending a challenging nine months on the sidelines. He spent a little more than three minutes on the field, as the Lions beat the Sunwolves, but it was enough for Coetzee to know he was fit and fine to again play Super Rugby.
“I’d played some 10s rugby the week before and was quite nervous, but got through that without a problem. Super Rugby, however, is a different matter altogether,” he said this week as the Lions enjoyed their first bye.
“And, sitting on the side of the field last week waiting to go on, felt like I was back at school, about to play my first senior game. It was scary, my stomach was turning ... I didn’t know how the knee would react, and all I wanted was to get through the first scrum, the first tackle.
“You know you’ve done everything you had to do to get back to that place, but you just never know how it’s going to go in contact.”
Coetzee hurt his knee playing against the Stormers last July and was forced to undergo surgery and sit out for nine months. It was another hammer-blow to the hooker’s progress, after he also had to give up a place in the Springbok team at the end of 2014 because of a neck injury.
“I’d struggled with a neck thing during the Currie Cup that year and then, after being called into the Bok squad, it just didn’t get any better. I had to withdraw from the squad or play on and put my life at risk. These things happen; it’s rugby,” said Coetzee.
He was again knocked down by a knee injury in 2016, which saw him sidelined for four months, but the most recent blow was a big one. And in his time away from the Lions set-up he’s had to watch and see how Marx has gone from being a promising junior hooker at the union to being one of the best in the world.
“Through all the injuries I’ve been able to see how Malcolm’s come through and grabbed his chance,” said Coetzee. “But, now that I’m strong again and playing I’m going to do whatever I can to put the pressure on him. There’s nothing better than strong competition and it’s sure to make us both better players.
“My only focus though is on me and what I can do to help make the Lions a better team. My aim is to be as good as I was at the beginning of last year’s competition when I felt I was playing really well against the likes of the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Waratahs.
I’m going to make sure that I enjoy every opportunity and appreciate every minute I have on the field.”
The Lions’ next Super Rugby game is next Friday against the Sharks at Ellis Park.@jacq_west