CAPE TOWN - If Ruhan Nel didn’t show us enough during the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, he certainly has done just that with Western Province this Currie Cup season.
And what the 26-year-old has produced on the 15-man scene this year is especially impressive if you consider the fact that the last time he ran out with 14 teammates before this year, was for Griquas in 2015.
It’s been a good year for the experienced Sevens player, and even though he produced a couple of strong performances in the inaugural SuperSport Rugby Challenge, the influential member Nel has become in a Province team that boasts some of the best players in South Africa still represents a very impressive upward curve. And perhaps it wasn’t even expected.
When it comes to backline stocks, WP boast the likes of Sevens stars Seabelo Senatla and Werner Kok, Springbok Dillyn Leyds, Scottish international Huw Jones, former SA Under-20 player EW Viljoen, fresh-out-of-school prodigy Damian Willemse, and so I can go on and on.
But Nel has had no trouble shaping himself into an important piece in the WP puzzle. And you don’t have to track back too far to get a perfect example of just how influential Nel has become.
In WP’s passion-fuelled semi-final victory over the Golden Lions at Newlands at the weekend, Nel - who started on the wing against his former team - moved to outside centre when Viljoen left the field with an injury. And I don’t think I need to go into detail on how he went.
Nel produced a brilliant defensive outing as he continuously shot up in the line, but his ability to blunt the opposition’s attack isn’t all the versatile back has contributed to the Cape side; he’s done more than enough on attack as well - whether that’s been in the form of opportunity-creating offloads, a passing game that perfectly reflects his Sevens background, and the ability to spot space and, of course, create it. He also has an understanding of the 15-man game that one doesn’t always see from Sevens recruits. Or not early in their Fifteens careers, that is.
The fact that he can feature at fullback, on the wing and at centre obviously also adds to Nel’s impressive rugby resume. And when he started at inside centre against the Sharks two weeks ago, coach John Dobson was pleased with the “straightness” and “directness” Nel brought to midfield.
In all likelihood, Nel will again find himself at No 12 in the Currie Cup final at Kings Park this weekend, and at a press conference yesterday, WP attack coach Dawie Snyman explained, from a coach’s perspective, what a “special” player Nel is.
“We worked with Ruhan in the SuperSport Challenge, he played a few games there, but unfortunately he got injured, so he missed the semi-final and the final. There already you could see that there was something special about him - how he is at training, how he is on and off the field, the energy he brings,” Snyman said.
“He took his chances - that’s why we selected him last week on the wing because we felt that he’s one of the players that has to be on the field. When EW got injured and he moved to centre, he really showed what he can do.
“That what we saw from him from the start and what he’s delivering now it all correlates, in terms of his personality, his work ethic and what he brings to the team.”
This weekend, in Province’s biggest game of the season, Nel has another chance to deliver a special performance. And if he continues to build on what he’s been doing all year, it can only be a good one for the “special” Nel in Durban.