South African rugby players, previously seduced by playing overseas, are wanting back to South Africa for the Vodacom United Rugby Championship – and among the latest to return to the Republic is fullback Andries Coetzee.
A relative veteran at 32, Coetzee played 149 matches for the Emirates Lions between 2011 and 2018, but in 2019 sought a new challenge at the Kinetsuy Liners.
Covid struck and Coetzee’s contribution to the Liners was two matches before he linked up with Italy’s glamour club Benetton in the inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
He played nine matches in the back end of the 2021/22 league season, including a visit against the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg.
Coetzee earlier in the year was a player in transit and the lure of being able to play for a South African team in what is South African rugby’s premier regional international competition proved irresistible for Coetzee, who in 2017 started at fullback for the Springboks in 13 successive Tests.
It is no surprise he settled immediately for the only team he has known in South Africa, and the Emirates Lions will be the stronger for his presence.
Coetzee’s return aligns with several prominent South African players wanting to be back in South Africa to play in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
The DHL Stormers utility forward Deon Fourie’s return to Cape Town after a decade in France proved sensational and Fourie, at 35 years-old, became the oldest player in history to debut for the Springboks.
Fourie’s national ascent screamed about the opportunities and possibilities in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship. The number of South African-based players in the league invited to the Springboks squad training and subsequently picked for the Springboks ensured players knew that the league, in addition to being one of the most competitive in the sport, was also a steppingstone to national selection.
Players didn’t have to necessarily leave South Africa to further their international careers. The Vodacom URC, in its inaugural season, was about quality and opportunity.
Experienced South African players abroad wanted back and every one of South Africa’s four league teams have been strengthened through the return of very experienced players from abroad.
South Africa’s powerful finish to the league last season, with three of the four teams in the play-offs, and the DHL Stormers monumental home play-offs winning streak, immediately confirmed South Africa’s presence in the DNA of a league that is positioned to be among the most sought after in the global game.
Coetzee, in the colours of Benetton, got an appreciation of the value of the league to the growth of Italian rugby, and he also got a taste of what it meant to be playing in South Africa again.
It didn’t take much convincing for the Emirates Lions to agree terms with Coetzee, whose seniority will be pivotal to the fortunes of a youthful and exciting Lions back division.
Lions flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse is on the national radar, despite being 21 years-old. Hendrikse played for the Springboks 7s earlier in the year and was among the stand-out players for the Emirates Lions in last season’s Vodacom URC.
Coetzee’s strong kicking game will complement Hendrikse and the duo, one left-footed and the other right-footed, one in the twilight of his career and the other at the start, will combine to make the Emirates Lions very difficult to beat, especially at altitude in Johannesburg.