Head to head: Clash of carriers as Coetzee faces Lee

Paul Eddison
08 January 2020

Share this article

Perhaps no match this weekend has more riding on it than Ulster’s trip to Clermont Auvergne, with the victor guaranteed a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final spot.

While both teams are well-placed to make the last eight, this could serve as the decider for top spot in the pool, with Ulster currently one point clear having won four from four, with Clermont’s only loss coming in Belfast in Round 2.

Dan McFarland has been boosted by the news that a number of key players will be available, including Marcell Coetzee, who missed the recent Guinness PRO14 victory over Munster.

Coetzee was outstanding in the win over Les Jaunards at the Kingspan Stadium, and his match-up with Fritz Lee at No.8 could define the contest.

While an untimely injury cost Coetzee the chance of being part of the Springboks’ victorious World Cup-winning squad, he has rediscovered his best form over the past 18 months at Ulster.

The go-to carrier in the Ulster pack, he will be crucial in getting them onto the front foot at the Marcel Michelin.

Up against him, Lee is a real talisman for Clermont, similarly important for his carrying but also a threat to turn over the ball if given a chance at the breakdown.

Both players will also be vital on the defensive side of the ball with their work-rate and appetite for tackling. Lee is far from the only big Clermont ball-carrier and considering how dangerous they can be when they build momentum at home, a few big hits from Coetzee early on could be crucial.


The other matchwinner the last time these two teams met was John Cooney, who has been Ulster’s key man virtually all season.

He went off in the win over Munster last Friday but will be fit for this encounter, and ready to go toe-to-toe with Morgan Parra.

The experienced Frenchman is a different type of scrum-half, albeit a goal-kicker like Cooney.

He is not a try-scorer and opportunist like Cooney, but when Clermont are rolling, it is generally because Parra is marshalling his troops and getting the backline ticking.

If Cooney can get the better of Parra on his own patch, then Ulster will fancy their chances of extending that unbeaten European record.

Share this article