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Marcell Coetzee puts down his coffee and says it from his heart. “I’m gutted,” he says of not being able to join his Vodacom Bulls teammates in Cape Town on Saturday for their Vodacom United Rugby Championship quarterfinal against the DHL Stormers. And then you see the fire in his eyes when he predicts that this particular edition of the famous South African Derby will be close to a Test match.

After a six-month stint playing in Japan, the competition’s rules have prevented Coetzee from resuming his duties with the Vodacom Bulls at this playoff stage.

“I was really looking forward to being in the mix, and it certainly hurts. But having been back in the camp now I can see there is a great spirit in the team, and everyone is right on par with what they want to achieve. I know they are up for it,” says Coetzee.

The talismanic former Vodacom Bulls skipper wasted no time rejoining his teammates and literally went from climbing off the plane from Japan and straight into a scrum session at Loftus Versfeld the very next day. And his passion and intensity for his team is clear to see, with the Japanese experience having given him even more clarity about what he believes in something special building at Loftus Versfeld.

And Saturday will be a great showcase for it.

“It will be like Test rugby. We played them in the final there last year, and you can believe these two teams are going to give this quarterfinal the respect it deserves. I think it’s going to be a great spectacle. Both teams are hungry. It’s going to come down to a set-piece battle. It will be decided by who is the fiercest and who wants it the most. It’s about attitude now. The team that wants it the most and is the most clinical and accurate will win. I think it’s going to be a massive onslaught,” he says.

He won’t be there on the day, but his message to his teammates is as direct as his big hits on the field.

“The occasion can play a massive role. It’s in Cape Town, it’s Steven Kitshoff’s last game, so it’s going to be a massive emotional high for them. My advice to the Vodacom Bulls players would be to just focus on what you’ve prepped for. Do what you do best. Respect the occasion but enjoy it as well. You’ve worked hard to get here, now just execute what you want to deliver on the day. If you make this any bigger than it really is, that’s when you strain your energy levels. Trust the process and don’t think of the outcome too much. Execute, be fearless, and be ruthless.”

Coetzee won’t be in Cape Town. But that won’t matter. In the past few days he’s seen all he needs to see from being back in the inner circle of his beloved team.

The man who saw the look on the faces of his teammates when they did the impossible and beat Leinster away in the semi-finals in Dublin last season, has seen something similar this week.

“The boys are ready for this one.”

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