URC: Stormers v Edinburgh: landmark looms for WP Nel

Veteran tighthead prop is set to play his 200th game for Edinburgh - but how many more will he play before retiring?

WP Nel will miss Edinburgh's European Challenge Cup match against Bath on Saturday night. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
WP Nel is set to make his 200th appearance for Edinburgh on the team's mini-tour to South Africa.Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

WP Nel is poised to make his 200th appearance for Edinburgh – probably on Saturday against the Stormers, or, if not, then against the Sharks seven days later. But while the 37-year-old gets ready to celebrate a landmark that will put him clear in third place on Edinburgh’s all-time appearances list, he knows that another landmark  his retirement from the game  could now be only a matter of weeks away.

Nel is third equal with Ross Ford at present for games played for Edinburgh, behind Allan Jacobsen’s surely unassailable 273 and Chris Paterson’s 205. He turns 38 next month and has had niggling neck injuries which have restricted his appearances of late, although when fit he remains a valuable contributor. And whether he retires in the coming weeks or signs another short-term contract – something that Edinburgh appear more than willing to offer – his place in the history of the club is secure.

In characteristically unassuming style, Nel insisted he had not spent much time musing on his imminent achievement, although he did admit he would feel a certain satisfaction when it came. “I haven’t given it a lot of thought yet,” he said. “If it comes this weekend it would be pretty special. 


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“I wouldn’t have thought I’d play 100 games, so to play 200 is special. It’s not everyone who plays 200 games. To be part of this club for 12 years and get to 200 games, it’s definitely special. To be in that club with Mossy [Paterson] and Chunk [Jacobsen] is awesome.  

“To do it here in Cape Town would be awesome. My missus’ family lives quite close to Cape Town, so on the off days we’ll make time to go and see them.”  

Asked if he wanted to carry on playing for at least another year, Nel suggested it was partly dependent on health issues. But, while insisting he had yet to decide, he sounded closer than in previous years to being reconciled to retirement.

“I don’t know,” he continued. “I haven’t thought about it. If something comes along, maybe. 

“With my neck, there have been issues, and I’m not 26 or 28 any more, so that’s something I think about. Obviously my neck plays a role. You start thinking and doubting. I went for scans and I need to manage it and see how it will look.  

“If it’s fine and I can carry on, maybe. If not, I’m happy to stop as well. 

“There’s nothing difficult to make the decision to end. I’ve done more than enough. I’ve achieved over and above what I ever thought I would. [If I had] to make the decision tomorrow I would. 

“I’ve never seen me as someone who played with another club, so if I’m done I’d just finish with Edinburgh. My contract ends at the end of the season, so there’s stuff that we need to discuss.”


EDINBURGH’s TOP 11 PLAYERS BY APPEARANCES

273 Allan Jacobsen

205 Chris Paterson

199 Ross Ford, WP Nel

198 Grant Gilchrist

177 Stuart McInally

169 Mike Blair

164 Andy Kelly

159 Craig Smith

151 Hamish Watson, Phil Godman


Even if he does sign a new deal, Nel is unsure if he will get the chance to play for Scotland again. Although called up to the squad before the England game, he did not make it into the matchday 23 at any point in the Six Nations, as first Elliot Millar-Mills and then Javan Sebastian were preferred as back-ups to Zander Fagerson.

He revealed that he has discussed his future with national coach Gregor Townsend, but did not reveal their content, and insisted that the issue was one more thing to which he had not devoted any time.

“It’s something I haven’t thought about. My neck did play up a bit and after the World Cup I thought I wouldn’t be mentioned to be back in the Six Nations. 

“It was awesome to be back in the squad and be around the boys. But to not play – it was tough to watch. 

“We had some discussions, even through the Six Nations, about how things look for the future. That’s still something that will need to develop.

“Let’s see [if the door is closed]. Maybe, maybe not.”  


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About Stuart Bathgate 1392 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

3 Comments

  1. Well said Warks Scot. Wholeheartedly agree. Magnificent servant to both Edinburgh and Scotland. Whatever comes next good luck big man. You’ve earned it.

  2. I hope he makes the decision himself and no pressure put on him. WP has been an amazing contributor to Scottish rugby, one of the first of the current generation to qualify on residency but has fully thrown his lot in with his adopted homeland. It would be great if he can still contribute via scrum coaching as he is definitely one of the best tight heads we’ve ever had. Great man, great player.

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