CAPE TOWN – Focus on the Currie Cup, get some Super Rugby experience and then, hopefully, get that Springbok jersey. Those are Blitzboks star Ruhan Nel's ambitions after making the switch to the 15-man game.
Ahead of their Currie Cup-opener against the Free State Cheetahs at Newlands last week, Western Province coach John Dobson said that he firmly believes that Nel has what it takes to reach the special milestone of becoming a double Springbok. And it's not too hard to see why.
Just like most who have ever worn the Springbok Sevens jersey, Nel boasts a work rate that is second to none. But apart from that Sevens-standard attribute, it's his other contributions that has the Province mentor so optimistic.
Nel's contributions have been massive when he's been a part of the WP side. Last year, in their Currie Cup-winning campaign, he was instrumental. And despite missing the team's pre-season, two-match tour France this season (he got married in that time), his influence could already be seen in their massive 32-0 triumph over the Cheetahs at Newlands last week.
Last year, he also played a big role in WP's crowing as the champions of the inaugural SuperSport Challenge.
It's his outstanding defensive know-how, his passing game, his ability to spot and create space and the way he can seamlessly transform from an attacking weapon into a more straight or direct midfielder that makes him an attractive, versatile option.
"I’ve signed with Province now, and the Stormers so that will be my only focus from now on," Nel said.
"I think for me now, short-term I am trying to get back into the swing of things. Currie Cup is a good place to do that before we hit Super Rugby next year. So for me at this stage, I’m trying to convert completely into that Fifteens mentality, trying to get a bit more experience and then come Super Rugby next year I’m hoping with coach Fleckie to slot in there and fill the role they want me to fulfil."
"I have not played Super Rugby and I heard it is a very different ball game to playing Currie Cup. I will have a taste of that hopefully next year. Once again that is a new thing I have to get used to. A couple of big boys there and the tempo is also higher. I’m looking forward to that challenge."
"You know it is a dream of everybody to wear that green and gold jersey while you are playing rugby. For me that is probably one of the biggest reasons I left Sevens, to concentrate on Fifteens because I enjoyed the Fifteens season so much last season with Province. And I also still have that dream to play for the Springboks, so those are probably the two biggest reasons why I decided to convert back to Fifteens."
"Obviously if it is on the cards for me to get higher honours...but for now it is just to fulfil my craft."
After a busy year on the Sevens calendar - a season which featured the Commonwealth Games, the Sevens World Cup and the Blitzboks winning back-to-back World Sevens Series titles - Nel said that it wasn't too hard getting back into Fifteens.
"I did have a good couple of weeks training against the Boks at the training camp and that was actually my gap to get back into the swing of things. On Saturday on the field it was actually quite easy to slot in and get back into the things. I am happy with the performance I had on Saturday under the conditions."
And while the 27-year-old knows that it won't be as easy as walking in and claiming a spot given the depth WP have, especially at centre, it was clear that he and his Sevens mates aren't scared of putting in the hard work. Not at all.
"I think the last thing that I expect is to walk into the 15s setup and to be the starting winger or centre," he said.
If I think of last year with me, Seabelo (Senatla) and Werries (Werner Kok), we would do a session or two and then afterwards we would feel that we still have one or two things left to do, so we will do an extra running sessions or whatever the case may be. Personally it is nice to know you have prepared well during the week, but for me it is nice to know I have prepared as well as I can and that will benefit the team at the end of the day as well."
"The last four years of my life have been Sevens, obviously last year I played a bit of Currie Cup, so there are guys out there with much more experience, guys that know the game a bit more, a bit longer. And if they go to the Sevens I will be one up on them."
"For me it is just learning as much as possible, just growing as much as possible in the position they want me to grow in and to work on that craft and to be the best in that position as well. At this stage I’m just trying to learn as much as possible and to craft my way in the team."
Able to play on the wing, at centre and fullback, Nel explained that while his best position is outside centre, he doesn't mind the number on his back too much.
"(My best position is) outside centre, but I enjoy wing just as much. I like outside centre when it comes to defence more, In Sevens there is a lot of space where you learn to make good reads quickly otherwise you will be exposed."
"At Fifteens there is a bit less space so it makes it a bit easier, so for me at 13, I like it defensively to make reads and have Norman (Laker) there to give me confidence to make those reads."
"I think that is why I like it so much, because I can almost relate to it coming from the Sevens as well. Playing centre you only have a wing 15 metres left of you and 15 metres right of you there is another guy. In sevens that is always the channel they try and target from first phase, to try and score from first phase so you need to make good reads from centre.
Here having a guy only five metres left or right from you is a bit more comforting to make a read because you can go up and the boys will be with you. So ja, I enjoy 13 very much.”