WP Nel hell-bent on adding to his try count

Willem Nel, pictured scoring against the Ospreys.
Willem Nel, pictured scoring against the Ospreys.
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HE WILL never challenge the likes of Tim Visser for sheer volume of touchdowns, but Edinburgh Rugby’s Willem Nel is surely a candidate today for the Rabo Direct PRO12 league’s try of the season.

In completing a 2012-13 league-scoring double against Leinster last weekend at Murrayfield – Nel also scored against the Irish side at the RDS last September – the 26-year-old South African sold a dummy and sprinted 40 metres in a rare spectacle so far as a prop forward like Nel is concerned.

It was a score reminiscent of two Scottish prop forwards of yesteryear – David Sole and Tom Smith at their most mobile best – and the good news for Edinburgh fans ahead of Sunday’s return Heineken European Cup clash with Munster at Murrayfield is that he confidently predicts there are more to come.

Nel also scored at home to Ospreys, making it three tries in the bag since arriving on a three-year contract last summer. He is now just over halfway towards his annual target.

“I never score less than five tries a season,” declared the former Orange Free State Cheetah with a smile, “but I must admit that last one felt a bit special and was certainly the longest run-in I have had.”

It was a measure of the quality that by the time he returned to the dressing-room at full time the try was already circulating on the internet.

“I didn’t realise just how far I’d run until somebody drew my attention to the try on YouTube and I thought, ‘oh, man, that was quite far out!’”

Alas, the score was not sufficient to help Edinburgh overturn an early deficit, but it did take them to 16-31 and signified that they were not willing to throw in the towel. “After the try there was a spark to our play and hopefully we can carry that over into the Munster match,” said Nel, who, recalling his moment in the spotlight, added: “Greig Tonks gave me the ball and after that everything just happened. I knew there was an overlap and that Sean [Cox] was next to me, but I was also aware that I had to straighten (the line of attack), otherwise players could have gone over the touchline.

“Just as I thought, ‘maybe I can straighten up’, I noticed there was a slight gap and it occurred there was a chance to go through – from there it just happened.”

Skipper Greig Laidlaw was particularly impressed, remarking: “It was an incredible try, especially after Willem’s performances where the scrum was a lot better. He was solid in there. He was blowing a few times during the game, but when the gap was there he just opened up. It was a lovely try from a good character who has fitted in well.”

Only Tim Visser, below, with 11 has scored more often this season than Nel, who stands alongside another Scotland winger, Lee Jones, on three touchdowns so far.

However, the player who is being tipped to qualify for Scotland on residency ahead of the 2015 World Cup is primarily focused on helping Edinburgh out of a trough, having gradually adjusted to foreign conditions.

“When I arrived I did find there were more scrums and more set phases and stuff. Your body must get used to that, as it is another mindset from running around the field.

“With half the season gone, I feel I am playing as well as I have ever done, helped by spending a lot of time in the gym. Back in South Africa, my gym work was more geared to an all-round programme.

“At Edinburgh, I have had to concentrate on my lower body and when I arrived I was possibly a bit underweight compared to others, but I love to score tries. It is one of the things that get me going. I love to get on the scoreboard, so when there is an opportunity I take it and hopefully that will continue.

“It has been a good experience and while Edinburgh are no longer in contention to qualify in the Heineken Cup, as [coach] Michael Bradley said to us at the beginning of this week, it is now about getting our pride back and giving something back to the supporters.

“Last weekend against Leinster, we faced opponents who had a combined total of 554 caps for Ireland. Against Munster, we are liable to be facing opponents who have the other half of the Irish team and who can still go through, but we don’t want to be thinking about spoiling anybody’s chances of qualifying. It is all about Edinburgh getting back to winning ways.”