Austin Gilgronis signed South African hooker Robbie Coetzee for the 2021 Major League Rugby season. The 31-year-old hooker (32 in May) is 6’1″ and 240 lbs.
Robbie is from Pretoria, South Africa, and attended Hoërskool Wonderboom, before finishing high school at Hoërskool Eldoraigne. He played youth rugby for the Blue Bulls U18s in 2006-2007, for the Free State Cheetahs U19s and U21s 2008-2009, and the Blue Bulls in 2010.
He attended the University of Pretoria and played for the Tuks from 2010-2011, making 13 appearances. In 2012 he made 11 appearances for the Blue Bulls in the Vodacom Cup and The Currie Cup. From 2013-2019 he played with the Golden Lions XV 9 times in Vodacom Cup and the Rugby Challenge, scoring 1 try. During the same period, he made 44 appearances and scored 5 tries. In 2013 he made his Super Rugby debut in a 21-20 win over the Cheetahs and has made 49 appearances and scored 5 tries through 2020.
Robbie’s Super Rugby career was marred by a knee injury in 2016, which saw him miss 4 months, and also in 2018, which had him miss 9 months before his return in 2019 against the Sunwolves.
In 2014 Robbie had a trial with the Springboks, however, he needed to withdraw from the European Tour after sustaining a neck injury.
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“I’ve been with the Lions for 7 years and at some stage, it became a routine, you get into the comfort zone, the same routine for so long, you just lose some of that drive,” said Coetzee. “Austin is a new opportunity for me to prove myself again. Working with a new coach offers great room for growth, but most importantly I get a chance to gain the respect of my team by putting my body on the line for them.”
Since 2013, Coetzee has tallied over a hundred combined appearances with Super Rugby’s Lions, the Golden Lions of the Currie Cup, and Golden Lions XV of the Vodacom Cup. He was a part of the 2013 Lions squad that earned promotion back into their rightful place in Super Rugby. In his time in Johannesburg, Coetzee helped the Lions to three consecutive Super Rugby Finals (‘16,’17,’18), three Currie Cup finals, and a Vodacom Cup Final. In 2014, Coetzee earned his first trial with the Springboks but an untimely injury cost him an opportunity at a test cap.
AG’s head coach Sam Harris shares his excitement in adding Coetzee to the AGs. “Robbie brings a strong set-piece game, his throwing is sound, and he’s a beast in the scrum. Robbie is yet another player who brings a winning and competitive attitude, coming out of that Lions system,” says Harris. “The other thing that he has in common with our other hookers is he plays like an open side flanker in general play, that excites me.”
At the end of the 2019 Super Rugby season, Robbie and his wife Camilia Coetzee made up their minds; they would make the move to Major League Rugby if they were afforded the opportunity. Aiding his decision was his keen eye on the social media pages of two South Africans who previously made the journey from Super Rugby to Major League Rugby.
“I’ve been following ‘Beast’ [Tendai Mtwarirra] and Joe Pieterson, these are both South Africans that made the move to MLR,” said Coetzee. “When I saw their move and their success, and seeing the professionalism of the MLR setup, it just made it clear to me to make the move here to the States when the opportunity came.”
Coetzee was approached by Loyals Rugby, the ownership group of the LA Giltinis and Austin Gilgronis with a contract offer and a choice between the LA and Austin. “I had a choice between LA and Austin, and I chose Austin because they said it’s more like South Africa, it’s more open and outdoorsy kind of vibe and that it’s a great place for a family,” says Coetzee. “I have a young son and I want to spend time with him and that was the important point to hear for me.”
When asked to peer into the future and imagine what a successful stint in Austin looks like, Coetzee quickly proclaimed a list of team goals as if they had been seared into his conscience. “My focus is to do at least a five-year stint in Austin, in that time I’d like to win a championship and be in the top three teams every year. This year, I want to play in the semi-finals or finals and win 10 out of 16 games.”
The AGs won their first match in almost two years in the 2020 Texas Cup, against state-rival Houston Sabercats. That would also be the final match as the season was cut short due to pandemic cancellation. Although, the AGs carried their winning momentum into the MLR Virtual Championship; again bringing home the cup.
But for Coetzee, winning isn’t his primary focus.
“Winning is an important thing; picking up the MLR shield it’s an awesome goal- yes, but it’s just the end result of a lot of hard work and sacrifice from our team,” says Coetzee. “For me, this new opportunity is a personal journey and it’s about enjoying every moment and forming lasting friendships and at the end of the day the cup will come to Austin, but that is just the product of a well-oiled machine”
Coetzee already has a friend on the AGs in former University of Pretoria (Tuks) teammate Brendan Rams. Rams made his move to Austin eight years ago, but Rams maintained contact with his “old pal Robbie” and the two now have an opportunity to reunite in the AGs front row. Coetzee will have an opportunity to build a relationship with another hooker and AG’s newcomer. In March, the club selected Dartmouth College hooker, Mason Koch, with the fourth pick in the second round of the first-ever MLR draft.
“I want to bring up the other guy to my standard or me to his standard, whatever makes us better,” says Coetzee. “I’m never going to hold back anything I think he can be doing better and I expect the same from him. He’s a youngster so he’ll push me in fitness and he’ll recover a bit faster than me, so I’ll have to make sure I’m lifting myself in those areas.”
Coetzee might be just as familiar with depth chart competition as classic club rivalry. For most of the last decade, Coetzee’s Lions have maintained a tenuous derby rivalry with the Bulls. Although, he is genuinely intrigued by the fervor of fandom surrounding American sports rivalries. Coetzee is up to date on the AG’s Texas Cup victory over Houston in 2020 and welcomes the added task of defeating both Houston and expansion newcomer Dallas to hold onto the Texas Cup in 2021.
“I’m used to a good rivalry having played against the Bulls,” says Coetzee. “The guys always play a bit harder with regional pride on the line, the fans get behind it, and you’re always extra sore the next morning, so yes I’m looking forward to it.”
Robbie Coetzee acknowledges that his time in Super Rugby was a wonderful roller coaster of a journey and that he’s looking forward to a fresh challenge and new journey here in Austin.
Welcome to Austin, Robbie Coetzee!