Jaco Coetzee relishing Lions breakdown battle

29 May 2019 - 13:12
By Craig Ray
Jaco Coetzee during the DHL Western Province training session and press conference at DHL Newlands on October 25, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Image: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images Jaco Coetzee during the DHL Western Province training session and press conference at DHL Newlands on October 25, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Jaco Coetzee has quietly become one of the Stormers’ most valuable players because of his dynamic breakdown qualities‚ which have transformed the team’s fortunes.

The 22-year-old looseforward who wears No 8‚ but plays like an openside‚ is the Stormers’ go-to breakdown weapon these days. And he will be key when the Cape side travels to Johannesburg to play against the Lions this weekend.

Over the past two weeks‚ against the Crusaders and Highlanders‚ Coetzee has been extraordinary.

Coach Robbie Fleck compares his potential to that of former Bok Heinrich Brüssow. That is lofty praise.

Saturday is a must-win game for both sides scrapping it out for a Super Rugby wild card play-off place.

Coetzee will come shoulder to shoulder with some of the best breakdown exponents in the South African game in Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith. The battle for the ball on the deck will be a highlight.

"This game is going to be a difficult one at the breakdown points but it is also an opportunity to test yourself against the best that there is‚” Coetzee said.

“It’s going to be lekker‚ it is going to be tough. Kwagga‚ Marnus (Schoeman) and Malcolm all do very well at the breakdown and I am not sure how they do it. My body is sore. It is a tough role to play.

"I have managed to win a few balls recently but I have high respect for what they can do‚ and what the Lions generally can do at the breakdown and elsewhere.

"We have stuff that we will be working on to try and stop them so that they don’t steal all our ball.”

Coetzee’s rise as a genuine fetcher/jackal/poacher is down solely to hard work on his part. With literally dozens of superb‚ athletic‚ tall‚ skilful and aggressive looseforwards on the SA production belt‚ Coetzee has tried to become subtly different.

It also took injuries to Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Juarno Augustus to open the door for Coetzee to show-off those hard-earned skills.

"If you look at it we have good flanks and No 8s‚ both at the Stormers and in the country‚ and it is difficult to put your foot down and decide I want to be the next Duane Vermeulen or the next Schalk Burger‚" Coetzee said.

"At the Stormers we have great ball carriers so I needed to look at a possible different role and I saw an opportunity to be the guy who steals a bit of ball at the breakdowns. I began working on that a couple of years ago and now I am pleased it is coming through.

"I didn’t think at the start that I would get so many opportunities and so many games to start but I got my break and am very thankful for every chance that I have had. I am very happy with how the season has gone for me personally‚"

Dedication and hard work have taken many players far in rugby and if Coetzee can have an influential role in the Stormers recording their first win at Ellis Park in four years.