Jerry Flannery relief that Harlequins will not face Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee

The relief was clear on Harlequins assistant coach Jerry Flannery’s face when he learned his team will not have to deal with the bulldozing impact of Marcell Coetzee when Ulster visit The Stoop on Sunday night for a European Challenge Cup round-of-16 tie.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 1:00 pm

The relief was clear on Harlequins assistant coach Jerry Flannery’s face when he learned his team will not have to deal with the bulldozing impact of Marcell Coetzee when Ulster visit The Stoop on Sunday night for a European Challenge Cup round-of-16 tie.

“Thank God!” exclaimed the former British Lion, Ireland and Munster player. “That guy is just phenomenal!”

Coetzee has been ruled out for a number of weeks due to a hamstring issue picked up in the home loss to Leinster on March 6.

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Ulster's Marcell Coetzee. Pic by Getty Images.

The powerful backrow forward has been a key in Ulster’s success during the past year and his absence will be sorely missed as they return to the European front.

Both Ulster and Harlequins had qualified for the Champions Cup this season, but they had only played two games in a revamped format before the competition was halted due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.

With both having lost the two games they had played, they found themselves qualifying for the Challenge Cup, a competition Quins have won on three previous occasions. For Ulster, it is a first appearance in what is regarded in a normal season as the second-tier event in European rugby.

Given the form of both sides they are among the favourites to go all the way and the meeting of the pair in London on Sunday is arguably the stand-out Challenge Cup fixture of the round.

The absence of Coetzee will give Flannery and the English Premiership outfit one less thing to worry about.

“Marcell is a serious player for them, he gives them that momentum carry which creates space and allows them to play their offloading game,” explained Flannery. “When you give (Ian) Madigan or (Michael) Lowry a bit of time on the ball when the defence is on the back foot after a Martcell Coetzee carry it gives time to the likes of Stuart McCloskey as well to get his hands free and get his off-loading going.

“If Marcell is not involved I will be happy.”

However, it is not all about one player and Flannery knows Quins will face a stern examination on their home patch.

“I know Dan McFarland pretty well so Ulster are going to be really well coached,” said Flannery. “I coached against Dan when I was at Munster and I know their team is very very fit.

“I think Dan Soper, the skills coach, has made a huge impact in the way they play.

“They are going to test us in terms of our ability to match their work-rate getting around the corner and I think in terms of McCloskey, Cooney, Mathewson, Stockdale...they have some real game breakers there, not to mention Lowry.”

Quins have a torrid record against Ulster, having lost five out of the seven meetings between the pair in the Champions Cup. The most recent of those was in the 2019-20 campaign with Ulster needing a last-gasp penalty to win 25-24 in Belfast then, a week later, romped to a 34-10 win at The Stoop.

“I was not involved at the time,” said Flannery, who joined Quins last summer as part of the coaching team. “I saw the game in Kingspan and I thought that Quins put up a good fight and in the end just got worn down.

“I think the Irish sides in the PRO14 are really, really fit, they probably do not have the same mass and the league is not as physical as it is in the Premiership, but they are super fit and they do all of the little things really, really well for 80 minutes, so it is a different challenge for us.

“We are not going to change what we do (because we are meeting a PRO14 side), we are just going to be aware of what they do well and how we can try and stop them doing their plan.

“Ideally you are looking at their big players and if you can stop them you are in with a chance.

“I mentioned four, five, six of their players who are game breakers.

“If you give them time they create a lot of space for the other players, their continuity game is pretty sharp.”

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