Edinburgh Rugby prop WP Nel insists his focus is firmly on Saturday’s crucial Guinness Pro12 clash with Leinster at BT Murrayfield and he is not yet contemplating the possibility of playing for Scotland at the World Cup in September.
The 29-year-old native of South Africa will qualify to don the thistle next month on residential grounds. With the country’s most capped prop Euan Murray having announced his retirement from international rugby earlier this week, the door is ajar for Nel to stake a claim for a place in Vern Cotter’s squad. However, before he can consider the prospect of earning international honours, Nel has unfinished business for Edinburgh whose defeat against Dragons in Wales last weekend means they are relying on others to do them a favour in order to secure a place in next season’s European Champions Cup.
The Capital men must also beat Leinster to have any chance of booking a berth in the top tier competition next season. That, says Nel, is the sole focus for now.
“I’m not thinking about that (playing for Scotland) at this moment. I just want to perform for the club and hopefully we can end up in the Champions Cup. So that’s my main goal and my main focus at this time,” he said.
Saturday’s match will be the 30th in league and cup for ever-present Nel, who has been remarkably resilient to remain fit while continuing to deliver high-level performances. While commitment to gaining and maintaining fitness has been the key to that run, he admits that there has also been an element of good fortune. “It must just be luck or something. Touch wood. I’m just grateful to play that many matches,” he added.
“Back in South Africa the most you would play would be 16 matches in super rugby but that wouldn’t be playing every week. The level of the physicality over here is just harder than super rugby so I think it’s a bit harder on your body.”
All the more remarkable then that he remains desperate to contribute further ahead of a match that, depending on the outcome, could be the last of the campaign or could be the key to a two-match elimination against English and French opposition to clinch the final Champions Cup spot.
That Edinburgh should have reached the denouement of a long campaign and still have something to play for is an achievement that has been beyond them in recent seasons. However, Nel acknowledges that it did take some time for the forwards to start operating as a cohesive unit.
“There was a time at the beginning of the season that things didn’t go that well for us and we just came together and had a hard talk with each other. We said if we want to achieve something we must work harder and definitely do what we can work on together better. And I think we have done a good job as a pack to get there,” he stated before pinpointing the stage when he felt the side was moving forward.
“There is a lot of confidence from us gelling together. We are from different places and we are coming together.
“After the first ten games we really came together and as a pack we have really worked hard together. We have just gelled better. It was just before the Glasgow games that we really started to get together.”
His personal contribution to the Edinburgh effort was recognised earlier in the week when he was listed as the tight head in the PRO12 Dream Team.
“I didn’t expect anything like that but it’s nice to see. If it happens, it gives you a boost as a player just to get better and to perform at that level and not to drop your level,” he said before returning to the task in hand on Saturday, adding: “Our main focus is on this game. It’s like a test match for us as a club so we must just be physically prepared for this game and hopefully we can get a massive win for our last home game.”