WP Nel (Edinburgh Rugby)
Cape Town – A Springbok loosehead prop born in Zimbabwe against a Scottish tighthead who hails from Loeriesfontein in the Hantam Karoo.
That highly unusual prospect at the looming World Cup got a lot nearer to reality over the weekend.
First the news was confirmed on Friday (as fully expected) that popular, Harare-born Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira would be in the Bok party for his own second stab at the Webb Ellis Cup from late September.
He is tipped to be first choice in the No 1 shirt in customary alliance with brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis in the front row for major matches at the RWC; it is one of relatively few areas where the injury-affected Boks currently boast reassuring security.
But a day later, the likelihood increased a great deal that his direct opponent for arguably the most challenging Bok Pool B match – game three against Scotland at Newcastle on October 3 – will be a South African: WP Nel.
The stocky 29-year-old from Loeriesfontein, once a Cheetahs favourite, made his maiden start for the Scots against Italy at Murrayfield (he was a brief substitute in the away meeting a week earlier, won by a tighter 16-12 margin) and by all accounts was a notable success in the No 3 jersey.
Scotland trounced the Italians 48-7 and the Edinburgh prop reportedly contributed to a dominant home showing at scrum-time, very much a speciality area of Nel’s.
The Scotsman (www.scotsman.com) reported that the Scots earned four scrum penalties in the first half alone – and that against an Italian outfit boasting the legendary Martin Castrogiovanni, 33, in their own tighthead berth.
Making specific reference to Nel in its match report, The Guardian (www.guardian.com) noted: “(He) may not be the biggest prop at the World Cup but has the reputation of a scrummager and the Scotland pack (kept) eking out penalties.”
It said he was “very much centre of attention after a decade of Euan Murray at tighthead”.
The 35-year-old Murray retired from internationals earlier this year.
Clearly Nel earned a tick of approval in his 63 minutes on the park on Saturday, roughly the time tightheads tends to be replaced by fresher personnel off the bench.
That puts him firmly in line for a first one-on-one in some time – they will have locked horns previously at Currie Cup and Super Rugby level – with Sharks stalwart Mtawarira, holder of 68 Bok caps, on the biggest stage of all.
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