Cape Town – Marcell Coetzee says that he and his family are excited about experiencing a “new life and new encounters in Japan” when he joins up with Kobe Steelers later this year.
The Japanese club announced this week that the Bulls captain will be turning out for them in the League One this season, which starts in mid-December.
It is a sabbatical for the 31-year-old loose forward, which is similar in nature to the one Sharks star Lukhanyo Am had with Kobe earlier this year, where the Springbok centre spent two months.
Coetzee is contracted to the Bulls until 2024 and is set to sign an extension until 2026 to stay at the Pretoria franchise – which means that he will return to Loftus Versfeld at the end of the Japanese season, which could be any time between April and the end of May, depending on how far Kobe go in their competitions.
“I am looking forward to playing in League One as a member of the Kobelco Kobe Steelers and meeting the fans at the stadium,” Coetzee said on the club website.
“I will do everything in my power to help the Kobe Steelers win the championship. My family and I are looking forward to new life and new encounters in Japan.”
Coetzee is currently on a United Rugby Championship (URC) tour with the Bulls in Europe, where they are preparing for Saturday’s match against Glasgow in Scotland (8.35pm kick-off).
Having earned a recall to the Springbok squad earlier this year, Coetzee missed the cut for the Rugby Championship, with Stormers star Deon Fourie preferred.
He is unlikely to feature in the Bok squad for the end-of-year tour either, although he could be part of the SA ‘A’ side that will play against Munster and Bristol.
Coetzee enjoyed an outstanding URC campaign last season, where he was the joint-top try-scorer on 11 and produced the most offloads. He was also chosen in the Team of the Tournament, and also received the Bulls’ Most Valuable Player award.
He has continued in that vein this season, with last year’s finalists recording victories against the Lions, Edinburgh and Connacht in South Africa before flying to the UK on Monday.
Bulls coach Jake White has spoken recently about giving other players game time in order to prepare for life without Coetzee, which saw Marco van Staden start at No 7 against Connacht last week.
Van Staden is likely to take over Coetzee’s No 6 jersey in his absence, with the skipper set to finish his current stint with the Bulls in the last tour game against Benetton in Treviso on October 21.
The Bulls have a URC bye the following weekend, and then there is the mid-season break due to the November international Test window before they return to the pitch on November 26 against the Ospreys at Loftus Versfeld.