‘Best shape’ Nel still taking it day by day
Club centurion WP Nel admits that he is probably in the ‘best shape he’s been in the last eight years’ after a rigorous pre-season and world cup campaign, however at the age of 37, the thought of retirement still looms large for the tighthead prop who is fast-approaching 200 games in the Scottish capital.
Therefore a ‘day by day’ approach from Nel – who signed a one-year extension with the club last year – is probably the most sensible, especially when considering the tighthead prop is still one of the most effective scrummagers in the URC, a craft that Nel has near-enough perfected over the course of his career.
Still ‘taking names’ when it comes to live scrummaging in both matches and training, Nel has looked closer to 27 than 37 when taking the field this season, however the aches and pains of playing professional rugby still remind the Scotland tighthead prop that the end isn’t too far down the road.
Nel said: “If I look at last week’s performance [against Benetton] and take how World Cup pre-season went, yeah, I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in the last eight years.
“So, I’m happy where I am – but still close to retirement.”
But how close to retirement? The question on everyone’s lips, especially those who’ve closely followed Nel’s career which has taken him from Bloemfontein to the Burgh
“That I don’t know!” laughed Nel. “I said to the boys in the gym earlier this week, it’s funny how you take so long to sort out my body, to finally find out what I need to do and what I don’t need to do.
“But yeah, I’m happy where I am. It’s still awesome to be out there and put a performance out for the team.
“It’s a bit of both, probably. Wanting to play and also retire. You can still enjoy it, but you still need to have a performance out there.
“You still need to put the team first, and it’s about the team at the end of the day – we need to win. That’s the frustrating bit. I think last weekend we dominated so much in the game and didn’t close the game down.
“At the moment, I’m just taking it day by day – enjoy it while I’m out here and see what comes next. That’s how I’m planning to do it this season.”
They say, ‘time waits for no one’, and that still rings true in rugby. Nel is no spring chicken – he knows that – and his opposition continue to get younger. But still, the tighthead holds his own, and so often dominates when it comes to set-piece time.
This week, Nel will likely face one of the biggest challenges the URC has to offer up front – taking on back-to-back Rugby World Cup winner and Springbok, Steven Kitshoff, who has just this summer signed for Ulster Rugby.
“I’ve played him plenty. Plenty of times. It’s a different challenge. He’s a good scrummager, he’s a good player, and he’s a good guy.
“That’s why we play the game – we want to play against the best – and it’s going to be a good test this weekend in Belfast.
“There are lot of great tightheads out there and I would say every weekend is a different challenge in the URC.
“Now the game is so analysed, they know exactly what you’re doing and every weekend is a different challenge, so you need to be on top of your game every weekend.”
Weekend to weekend, day by day, Nel continues to show why he remains one of the league’s best. Time truly waits for no one, so let’s just enjoy the ride with WP.