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WP Nel in no rush to retire as major milestone approaches

By Bryn Palmer
WP Nel of Edinburgh during the United Rugby Championship match between Ulster and Edinburgh at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Veteran Edinburgh and Scotland prop WP Nel insists he would have no problem retiring tomorrow as he mulls over whether to extend his career beyond the end of the season.

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The venerable tighthead, who turns 38 at the end of April, won the last of his 61 caps at the World Cup last autumn and decided against retiring from Test rugby after talks with Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.

But he picked up a neck issue in the weeks before the Six Nations which prevented him from being available for the Scots’ opening games.

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He did return to the national squad mid-tournament and played two games for Edinburgh in the tournament’s fallow weeks, but Townsend opted to retain Northampton Saints’ Elliot Millar-Mills as bench cover for first-choice Zander Fagerson for the rest of the championship.

“After the World Cup I thought I wouldn’t be mentioned to be back in the Six Nations,” Nel said. “It was awesome to be back in the squad and be around the boys. It’s good to be in the environment, but to not play… it was tough to watch. You want to be there, but it’s good that other guys got opportunities.”

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Tighthead prop is an area where Scotland are not blessed with great depth. Millar-Mills was not part of Scotland’s original Six Nations squad but when uncapped Leicester prop Will Hurd was forced to pull out with a foot injury and Javan Sebastian was still recovering from a knee problem, the 31-year-old made his debut off the bench in the opening game against Wales and won three further caps.

With Scotland playing summer Tests in Canada, USA, Chile and Uruguay, it is unlikely Nel would be involved in a tour focused more on developing depth while some frontline operators are likely to be rested ahead of a season ending in a British and Irish Lions tour.

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But the man known as the ‘Squadfather’ in the Scotland camp appears to be in no rush to close the door on an international career that began in 2015, three years after he qualified on residence following a move from Cheetahs in his native South Africa to Edinburgh in 2012.

“That’s something that will come down the line,” Nel said. “I haven’t given it any thought at this stage. I’m just focused on playing this weekend.

“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.

“Obviously with my neck there have been issues, so it plays a role. You start thinking and doubting. I went for scans and I need to manage it and see how it will look.

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“I’m not 26 or 28 anymore so that’s something I think about. If it’s fine and I can carry on, maybe; if not, I’m happy to stop as well.

“My contract ends at the end of the season so there’s stuff that we need to discuss.”

Nel, who has started ten of Edinburgh’s 15 games this season, admits he can’t see himself playing for another club, but he remains coy about whether he wants to continue playing or call it quits come the end of the current campaign. A coaching element could also be a factor in any new offer.

“There’s nothing difficult to make the decision to end,” he added. “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. It’s not something I’ve thought about. If I’m done, I’d just finish with Edinburgh.

“I would love to give my experience that I gained over 18 years. I’d love to work with younger kids and give that experience back to them. That’s definitely something I’d love to do.”

While his future remains unresolved, Nel is poised to play his 200th game for Edinburgh in Saturday’s URC match against Stormers in Cape Town, with only ex-prop Allan Jacobsen (273) and former full-back Chris Paterson (205) ahead of him on the club’s all-time list.

“It’s not everyone who plays 200 games,” he added. “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.”

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