Happily settled WP Nel reveals career plans once playing days end

Tighthead hopes for another year playing for Edinburgh before moving into coaching

WP Nel
WP Nel is set to extend his time with Edinburgh to at least a decade after agreeing a new contract. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

WP Nel has given his all to Scottish rugby – first with Edinburgh, then the national team – since moving here from his native South Africa in 2012. At 34, and in the final year of his current contract, he knows that retirement is not too far away.

But the tighthead prop is also sure that he still has a lot to give to the game. And, as he prepares to play his 150th game for Edinburgh against Glasgow at Scotstoun tomorrow night, the only question is whether that will be as a player or as a coach.

There was a time when he was regularly the subject of interest from French and English clubs – Willem Nel overtures, let’s call them. Tighthead tends to be the most highly-paid position in France, and there is little doubt that he could have increased his salary considerably by crossing the channel. Yet he stayed loyal, and earlier this week, while not entirely discounting the possibility of an extra year somewhere else, he hinted that ending his playing career here was the likeliest option.

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Look, I just don’t know if anyone wants to look at me any more,” he said when asked if he was thinking of leaving or planned to see out his career in the capital. “But I’m happy where I am, my family’s happy, so let’s see what the future brings. 

“I feel pretty good, but if it comes to retirement I’d be pretty happy as well. I’ve done a lot but I still feel as if I have a lot to give. So time will tell.

“I would love to work with the younger generation, and to bring them through. If there’s some way I can work with them I’d love that, but I would also love to play another year so let’s see what the next step is for me.

“I was helping at Watsonians before lockdown, and I’m trying to work with the younger boys at Edinburgh at the moment, just doing the odd thing here and there and giving them some pointers. The aim for me is to give back to the younger players so that they can hopefully make them better players.

Capped 40 times by Scotland after moving here from South Africa in 2012, Nel added that he was likely to stay in this country after retirement in any case. “You really miss your extended family: it’s not easy to be away from them. But then Scotland’s also done a lot for me and I’ve fallen in love with this place. 

“My family’s happy, and the kids are starting in school now. Scotland’s all that they know, so it will come down to a family decision. I’m quite happy either way – although we’ll probably end up staying in Scotland, because my wife is very happy here.”

It would be easy to contrast Nel’s loyalty to his adoptive country with the decision by another South African, Duhan van der Merwe, to head for England at the first opportunity. Both men had to qualify for Scotland on residence, but while the prop is still here more than five years after making his international debut, the winger’s decision to leave Edinburgh for Worcester in the summer came just weeks after he won his first cap for Gregor Townsend‘s side.

Yet Nel sympathises with his team-mate, and insisted that Van der Merwe’s personal situation was entirely different from his own. Listen, it’s a tough environment, it’s tough out there. Everyone can make their own decisions. I’m happy that I’ve got my family here, but Duhan and his girlfriend are obviously in a different situation.

Everyone has to make their own decisions and it comes down to the individual. It’s not up to me to ask Duhan why he’s moving, it’s up to how the person feels. If he feels that the Premiership is the next step for him to become a better player then that’s what works best for him.

Van der Merwe will clearly be a significant loss for Edinburgh, and Nel will be sorely missed too whenever he does hang up his boots. Given the player’s own willingness to play on for another season after this one, it will probably be up to Richard Cockerill whether he gets a chance to do so, and perhaps the Edinburgh coach offered a hint about his thoughts on the subject when asked this week which position he would be willing to pay the most money for.

“Two most important positions,” he said. “Tighthead and reserve tighthead.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1438 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.


  1. I bloody love Nel. If he’s happy and settled here I hope Edinburgh can find space in the budget for him as a front row coach and a pay as you play deal.
    The little moment where he won a scrum penalty late on in the 2018 Calcutta Cup and smiled at his team mates is him in microcosm. A fantastic scrummager and popular team mate.

    And there’s a silver lining to Duhan moving on. The 1872 line ups had 20 year old left wingers for both Edinburgh and Glasgow. Seeing exciting young talent getting an opportunity is nothing to moan about. If the European weekend is off this coming week, here’s hoping the match can be quickly rescheduled and the two youngsters seize their chance.

  2. WP has been a great signing for Edinburgh and an excellent servant for Scotland too. Not to mention that he seems like a genuinely nice guy. Shame that injuries at the wrong time halted what looked like was developing into a strong case for inclusion on the last lions tour. At 34 he seems to be turning in some characteristically strong performances.

  3. You’d be a lot more disappointed if Duhan had moved on a few weeks before becoming Scottish qualified.

    • Which he could have I guess. Did he not sign a longer extension? Anyway, room for more Scots to play as two pro teams isn’t enough. Super 6 might have eventually helped the younger ones but in 5-10 years. When he scores the winning try at Twickenham this year, he’s Scottish and no-one will care what he did!

  4. The introduction to the article of contrasting WP Nel with Duhan van der Merwe offers up comment from two directions. It offers a platform to criticise Rugby’s acceptance of International Caps for residence, or it risks an allegation of ‘sour grapes’ when vdM is simply reacting to the way in which the game is going.
    As Nel says the circumstances differ, Nel advancing toward the end of his playing days that have been plagued by an injury curtailing his on field appearances: and vdM who is at the commencement of a career and ‘folding money’ would bet that he will even improve on his current form.
    The fact that vdM is moving to a Club in England is on the face of it more to do with money than opportunity, I don’t envisage Worcester Warriors troubling European television commentators with pronunciation problems, they are 11th just above Gloucester in the league, it’s just the ever increasing problem of professional rugby requiring a winning team and competition success in an attempt to square the circle of expenditure. Micawber would be apoplectic as a financial manager in the English Premiership rather than a Dicken’s character.
    Personally I am against residency as a qualification, to represent a Country on the basic principle ‘that have boots will travel’ in any era is ok at Club level, in fact it was always thus, but not Internationally.
    More than a few have pulled on the Jersey on the basis of a Grandparent or Parental qualification and for me that is fair enough but residency is just a step too far, not only that, as has been written on these pages in recent times it does create a problem for the home grown player who hasn’t had the opportunity or experience to show his abilities if he can’t get a game or even on the bench in a Senior side on the way to the Professional team.
    So, like David Mill’s comment earlier today, Good Luck Duhan, keep fit and improve your skills for your adopted Country, and good luck to WP, he seems like a decent bloke.

  5. A great player and a good article.
    Unfortunate and disappointing use of the phrase “he stayed loyal”. To Edinburgh presumably but most players move clubs so does that make them disloyal? Was it a dig at Duhan, given he was referred to in the article? Either way, both players literally put their neck on the line for a sport they love AND to entertain us so I totally respect choices made which were for personal reasons and should not be for what we want… Many will disagree with me but that’s the beauty of an opinion.

    • Thanks for your comments, David. I stand by the phrase “he stayed loyal” – it’s a standard description of anyone who remains a long time with one club. No, I don’t think that means anyone who moves clubs at some point is disloyal, but I do find it disappointing that Duhan has chosen to move on just weeks after becoming Scottish qualified. However, the point of the paragraph you quote was to highlight the clear difference between WP and Duhan, as a way of introducing the opinions of the former on his team-mate. SB


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