Forget Scots project, WP Nel still wants to play for Boks
EDINBURGH’S new tighthead prop, WP Nel, has dismissed the suggestion that he is the latest in a new trend of “project players” being nurtured for Scotland by insisting that he has not given up hope on winning South African honours.
The 26-year-old is viewed as potentially the biggest signing by the capital club this summer in a bid to make the Scottish pro teams more competitive.
Nel is believed to have agreed a three-year deal that will make him one of Edinburgh’s top earners, and there are expectations that, if he proves to be as good as his Currie Cup and Super Rugby form has suggested, he could help fill a gap for Scotland after three years’ residency, at a time when Euan Murray may be retired.
However, Nel, who only took up rugby at 18 and then took two years out before returning at 20, told The Scotsman that he had not closed the door on South Africa with his move to Edinburgh.
“I always wanted to play for South Africa – that was my main thing,” he said. “But it has not happened and while it’s difficult to say [admit] that that has gone, I have come to Edinburgh and so my focus now is on doing the best I can here.
“I haven’t ruled out South Africa and my main reason [for joining Edinburgh] is not that [to play for Scotland]; it is to play for Edinburgh and do my best with Edinburgh. I just want to be my best for Edinburgh and in the Heineken Cup this year, and so on.
“Everybody who plays rugby wants to play international rugby, but at this moment I don’t know what would happen if South Africa called me up. I just want to focus on Edinburgh and if international rugby came my way then I would take it.”
Edinburgh have been scouring the world for a good tighthead prop in the past three years with little success. There are precious few being created in Scotland and those who are coming through remain young in knowledge and physical size, and the coaches feel need gradual introduction before being ready to cope with back-to-back matches against Test front rows in the RaboDirect PRO12 and Heineken Cup.
Nel is coach Michael Bradley’s answer and there is some excitement behind the scenes about the level of competition he could provide for Geoff Cross, the Scotland tighthead, and in keeping Edinburgh competitive when Cross is on international duty. When Edinburgh lost Cross, Ross Ford and Allan Jacobsen last season their scrum was a pale shadow and the team suffered significantly.
The signing of Nel among a handful of big forwards is designed to strengthen the team during the three months when the Scotland players are unavailable, notably in the scrum and in carrying ball and creating a new forward threat.
Nel is of Bloenfontein farming stock and it is only in the past two years that he has come to rugby prominence, to the extent that there has been disappointment in South Africa over his leaving now.
“This is a good place to start a new career,” he said. “The guys are very good and the coaches are very good, so I think this could be a very good year.
“It’s not easy to leave my family, but my wife Alana is with me and we are expecting our first child on 27 October, so this is a great time and place for us to start a new chapter in our lives.”
The South African has been quickly brought into the Edinburgh camp and he has already lost his hair after being persuaded by the club’s Fijian No8 Netani Talei to support the charity ‘Walk On Walk Strong’ (WOWS), which supports disadvantaged children in Fiji, alongside Talei and fellow front row Lewis Niven. Edinburgh supporters will no doubt be happy if Willem Petrus Nel leaps into the start of this new chapter and takes on leading Celtic and European front rows with the same gusto in the season ahead.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west