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2020-21 Provincial Rugby Men Ulster Rugby

Replacing Marcell Coetzee: What the stats say

Ulster will be losing one of their star players at the end of this season as Marcell Coetzee returns home to South Africa to play for the Blue Bulls, but what do the statistics say about his time at Ulster?

Signed from Natal Sharks for the start of the 2016-17 season, Coetzee arrived injured and didn’t make his debut for Ulster until February 2017 against Edinburgh. Only making five appearances in his first two seasons due to a series of injuries, it was the 2018-19 season before he left his mark at Ravenhill, making 23 appearances as Ulster progressed to the knockout stages in both Europe and the league.

So far, the Springbok international has made 53 appearances since his debut and ranks 10th for Ulster in minutes played since the start of 2017-18 with 3311 minutes of action. He sits fifth for most tries (14) in the same time frame with only John Cooney (23), Jacob Stockdale (20), Craig Gilroy (16) and Rob Herring (15) scoring more.

AppearancesMinutes
Alan O’Connor815006
Sean Reidy774486
Kieran Treadwell764391
John Cooney744846
Stuart McCloskey705282
Rob Herring683666
Nick Timoney653936
Louis Ludik583410
Matthew Rea553049
Eric O’Sullivan542761
Andy Warwick531982
Dave Shanahan501719
John Andrew501565
Marcell Coetzee493311
Tom O’Toole491745
Top 15 players with the most Ulster appearances since 2017-2018

In attack

Carries6912nd (in Ulster squad)14.03 per 80 minutes
Metres123811th29.9m per 80 minutes
Metres per carry1.832nd (of players to make more than 50 carries)
Defenders beaten1373rd3.3 per 80 minutes
Clean breaks926th0.2 per 80 minutes
Offloads551st (since 2018-19)1.32 per 80 minutes
Statistics taken from ESPN rugby and Ulster Rugby website since the start of 2017-18 season

The statistics don’t tell the whole story however, out of the 31 players to have a better average of metres per carry than Coetzee, 26 were outside backs and therefore expected to have a higher average due to regularly fielding box kicks etc. Rarely was he knocked backwards while his strong carrying ability was able to put Ulster on the front foot.

Nick Timoney (2.61m), Sean Reidy (2.49m), John Andrew (2.72m) and Matthew Rea (2.11m) all have a better average per carry than the South African, while I would like to see Rea and Kieran Treadwell (1.19m) take on responsibility of ball carrying once Coetzee departs.

In defence

Tackles5816th (in Ulster squad since 2017-18)14.03 per 80 mins
Tackle success91.5%17th (of players to make more than 25 tackles)
Turnovers471st1.14
Statistics taken from ESPN rugby and Ulster Rugby website since the start of 2017-18 season

Coetzee tops the turnover charts closely followed by Stuart McCloskey (44) and Iain Henderson (29). He was a huge threat at the breakdown, and could halt opposition attacks with turnovers, which indicates why he doesn’t make as many tackles as Alan O’Connor (802), Reidy (795) or Herring (658). Considering all of the other players mentioned so far have played a considerable amount of matches more than Marcell, there will be a gaping hole for Ulster to fill.

One of the best number eights in the world, Bryn Cunningham and Dan McFarland will have their work cut out to find a replacement so it might signal a slight variance on how Ulster play the game next season. Coetzee is up with Ardie Savea, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Pablo Matera as one of the best back rowers at the minute but I think it will be very difficult for Ulster to find a like for like number eight.

However Ulster fans can take faith that the last Springbok international to prematurely leave Ravenhill was replaced with a scrum half who, along with Coetzee, has been one of Ulster’s stand out players over the last three years.

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