CAPE TOWN - Stepping onto a podium and lifting trophies hasn’t been a foreign concept for Ruhan Nel this year. But that didn’t make securing the tournament Cup in Dubai any less special.
Nel and his fellow Blitzboks of course reigned supreme in the opening leg of the 2017-18 World Sevens Series again at the weekend after securing the desert title last year as well. And his run in the 15-man game in 2017 - in which the Springbok Sevens star won both the inaugural SuperSport Rugby Challenge and the Currie Cup with Western Province - has made his accolade cabinet an especially impressive one until now.
But it doesn’t matter how many Cups 2017 has offered, celebrating another one with his Sevens mates was still “special”.
“To lift a trophy or to win a tournament is always a special thing, and it’s something that I’ll never take for granted. It’s great to be back with the Sevens guys and I’m very grateful for that,” Nel said.
It took the Springbok Sevens side a while to shift into fifth gear in Dubai at the weekend, but on day two, they showed their class and topped it off with a win over New Zealand in the final.
And for Nel - who said that the team weren’t at their best at the weekend - the promising thing is knowing what they are capable of producing when they are fully on song. And it’s something the former Golden Lions back is hoping to achieve in front of a pumping home crowd in Cape Town on Saturday and Sunday.
“Personally I feel that the team weren’t as on form as we’d have liked to be at the weekend, but the positive is knowing how things can go for us once we find each other,” he said. “Sevens is a game that’s made to be broken. If you look at our game against Uganda - that game shouldn’t have been that close.”
Sevens players getting involved in fifteens is a common trend nowadays, and one often hears the praise that coaches of the 15-man code have for players of the shortened format in terms of the contributions they make. And when it comes to what fifteens does for Sevens, it’s the work in contact that Nel believes has benefited him the most following his lengthy fifteens stint this year.
“In terms of contact it helped, the guys in Sevens are smaller - faster - and that helped with the physicality. And that’s very important when you come back into the Sevens set-up, especially in our team, we’re very proud of our defence. We’re not the biggest team on the circuit, so being seen as one of the most physical teams is important for us. It’s part of our identity,” Nel said.
“There’s just a few fifteens (habits) that I had to shake off. I could definitely see on day one that I had to get used to one or two things again. And it was the same when I got to fifteens, I had to shake off a few Sevens habits.”
While on fifteens duty, Province coach John Dobson lauded Nel for how he stepped in and delivered in a depleted WP outfit. The WP mentor made a special mention of Nel’s versatility, and when it came to his positional play at inside centre, Dobson was especially pleased with how direct Nel was. Of course, a player like Nel can do much more than that, and he himself highlighted the importance of adaptability and versatility.
“I’m very grateful that I could play for WP, I’ve looked up to WP rugby since I was a child. I think it’s important to be versatile. If you play a one-dimensional game it becomes very simple and easy for the opposition to read. If you look at guys like Cheslin Kolbe and Warrick Gelant - if they have to be direct, they’ll be direct, but they also know what to do in space. I like to attack, but if I have to be direct, I enjoy doing that as well,” Nel said.
The Blitzboks - having won the 2016-17 World Sevens Series and winning five of the eight finals they played - obviously enjoyed a massive season last year. And getting this one off to the best possible start should do something for their confidence. And that’s a big positive. But Nel isn’t getting too excited about dominating the World Sevens circuit with his teammates just yet - not the way the Kiwis did for 12 years, that is. For now, Nel says it’s all about taking it one step at a time.
“I think that would be a goal of any team, to be as dominant as New Zealand were in the past. But I think we’re very careful of getting ahead of ourselves. We had a very good season last year, but we focused on that year alone, and I think if we do that again this time around, then we will be successful again," Nel said.
“It’s going to be great to play in front of family and friends, it’s something to look forward to. But I’m just looking forward to the tournament itself. ”
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Voted the Best Live Experience in South Africa, the HSBC Cape Town 7s will take place at Cape Town Stadium on 9 and 10 December.
Bigger, Faster, #NextLevel7s#CapeTown7s pic.twitter.com/cSILkuEmyk