WP Nel: I hope I can push on with what I am doing and get better
Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has said that he is finally seeing why people raved about WP Nel as one of the best tighthead props in the world – and the 32-year-old is determined to carry on his fine form into this year’s Six Nations.
Nel was being touted as a potential British and Irish Lions starter before a troubling neck issue derailed his career. A broken arm was thrown in for good measure but Nel is finally back to his best as a linchpin of Edinburgh’s impressive pack and also a key man again for Scotland. “In the autumn Tests I was asked will I be ever as good as I have been? I don’t know how you measure that,” said Nel.
“From a coaching point of view if he [Cockerill] sees that in me, then I am happy and I hope I can push on with what I am doing and get better.
“Any player has weaknesses. There are certain places I need to improve.”
Nel recognisies it has been a long struggle over the past couple of years. “You need to get confidence after injury,” he said. “I was out eight months, nearly a year of rugby and you are sorry you fell behind and you need to catch up.”
That neck problem in particular was a worrying time, but Nel says he can’t allow it to play on his mind. “I must say I’m not a guy who really thinks about it. If I’m going in I’m 100 per cent going in for it,” he said.
“I think that is what rugby is about. You can’t be subconscious otherwise you will miss a tackle or not be 100 per cent on your game.”
South Africa-born Nel is one of a number of imports who have been brought in to strengthen the front-row options at both pro-team and national level and concedes he isn’t sure why Scotland appears to struggle when it comes to producing homegrown props.
“I have been asked that question plenty of times,” he said. “I don’t know. If I look at Murray McCallum, he’s coming through. Zander Fagerson is still young and he’s good.
“There are young props coming through, it’s just game time. As a prop it takes time just to go through some processes. I don’t know why, I can’t put my finger on it, but hopefully with Dicko [former Edinburgh and Scotland loosehead Al Dickinson] around at the academy and stuff he can bring some guys through for us.
“Honestly, I can’t explain why there aren’t many props coming through. Euan Murray was the other tighthead and I don’t know why people don’t see him as a role model and want to come up to do what he’s done.
“Hopefully there’s some young schoolboys who’d like to take up the role and it’s up to us, like the Dickos and [hooker] Fordys [Ross Ford] and us, when we are done, to go out there and have a look where we can find some and get them through and get them into the environment.
As Scotland began their final week of Six Nations preparations the national management team are aiming to instil their players with the confidence that they are genuine title contenders.
“Definitely. We’ve talked about it just about every day in training,” said assistant coach Matt Taylor. “We’ve talked about wanting to be the first Scottish team to win the Six Nations title. It starts on Saturday [at home to Italy] and we’ve got two home games [with Ireland next]. That’s a really good start, having two home games.”
It is certainly the kindest opening set of fixtures the Scots have been handed for a while and defence boss Taylor said the squad were desperate to take full advantage.
“In any home game you’re looking to do well. Whoever you’re playing, whether it’s Italy or Ireland or England, in your first game you want to get off to a good start,” he said.