Cape Town — When asked if he could say anything more than ‘konnichiwa’ (hello) in Japanese, Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee quickly rattled off what sounded like “My name is Marcell Coetzee” — but he didn’t get much further than that …
Not that such an effort should be scoffed at, as one of the difficulties in understanding the language is how quickly locals speak to puzzled foreigners.
But following Sunday’s United Rugby Championship (URC) derby against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld (3pm kick-off), the 31-year-old Springbok loose forward will be making his way back to the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ to join Kobe Steelers on a six-month sabbatical.
Yes, he will return to Pretoria for the closing stages of the URC season, but is keen to explore the Asian nation a bit more — having played for Honda Heat in 2015/16 before joining Ulster for five years, and then signing for the Bulls in 2021.
“I was there in 2015 for about three months and got some of the basics, but I can’t put together more than three sentences. And maybe if I come back after six months, maybe I can talk more than one sentence to you in Japanese,” the No 6 flank said this week.
“But it’s something that came on my path, and I want to tackle it head-on and exploit that, for all time’s sake. But the positive thing for me this time is that I know I’m coming back. I missed my country too much while being at Ulster for five years, and the Bulls are backing me.
“Me and my wife have really found Pretoria as our home, and it’s an honour to play for the Bulls. You just want to live out every moment. Home is where the heart is, and it’s definitely in Pretoria.”
Coetzee signed a Bulls contract extension until 2026, so he will hope that Jake White’s team are in title contention in the URC and Champions Cup at that stage.
That is why the former Sharks star also wants to hone his skills on the pitch — perhaps in order to make a late bid for the Springbok World Cup squad as well.
Coetzee has been so good in the last two URC seasons, for Ulster and Bulls respectively, that he was picked in the Team of the Tournament after each campaign.
He was the offload king last term, having been more of a ball-carrier during his lengthy stint at the Sharks before.
“As a player, you always want to develop certain things, and you want to grow as a player. The last time I played in Japan, it’s very high tempo — you train and you run a lot as well, and it might be good for my game going forward,” he said.
“The URC is getting tougher and quicker as well, when you are playing the Irish sides and Scottish sides. You can always pick something up wherever you go, and I know from the last time, my skill-set really improved because they can hit a guy properly if you don’t have certain skill-sets.
“You want to get better as a player and stay ahead of it, and it will keep you on your feet, with other loosies coming through.”
White said last week that he will announce the new captain to take over from Coetzee soon.
“Before the season started, I chatted with Jake and he said that we have to look at a successor and we identified a few guys,” the current skipper said.
“I think the leadership, in general, is good. There are still the old guys like Bismarck (du Plessis) and Morné Steyn and then you have young guys like Elrigh Louw and Ruan Nortje. There is also someone like Harold Vorster.
“I think the systems that Jake implemented will take the group forward. I have a lot of confidence in that.”