Ruhan Nel takes great pride in wearing the DHL Stormers No.13 jersey and is looking forward to another big challenge in the Heineken Champions Cup at DHL Stadium on Saturday.
The DHL Stormers are back at home after a short tour of the UK and it’s all to play for when they host French outfit ASM Clermont Auvergne in the final Pool B match on Saturday night.
A bonus-point win against London Irish in Brentford saw the DHL Stormers climb into fourth place in Pool B and the hosts need just one point from Saturday’s match to secure a place in the Heineken Champions Cup play-offs.
The opening-round clash between the two teams at the Stade Marcel-Michelin saw the DHL Stormers take a 14-3 lead into the break, but Clermont fired back in the second half to win 24-14.
“The thing I remember most about the Clermont trip was experiencing the cold weather,” said Nel. “We woke up on game day and there was snow on the ground.
“We had a big discussion in the week after the Clermont defeat about our defence system. Everything starts at the point of contact. Once we no longer make dominant tackles, we become soft on the outside and we let ourselves down in both of those departments on that day. Soft moments in concentration brought them back into the contest.”
Following a short spell on the sidelines with injury, Nel made a successful return in Brentford, where he resumed his centre partnership with Dan du Plessis and scored an intercept try.
“We have a good understanding of each other’s way of thinking,” Nel explained. “We feed off each other’s mindsets whether we are on attack or defence.
“Playing 12 or 13 in the DHL Stormers setup is a very demanding task. It requires an extremely high work rate. So making each other feel safe on the field is very important and that’s what we try and do every opportunity we get to play together.”
Since making his DHL Stormers debut back in 2019, Nel has grown into one of the most effective outside centres in the country, with his defensive mastery of the No 13 channel earning him plaudits.
“From scrums and line-outs you are probably the most vulnerable and isolated player in the defence line. You often have guys running out the back with a short runner or a trick play that they try and catch you off guard and make you make the wrong decision,” said Nel.
“The way we as a system defend, it often requires decisions that need to be made sometimes in the moment.
“It’s tricky because if you get it wrong teams find a lot of space out wide, but if we get it right, it’s the most beautiful thing to see. So it’s high risk for high reward.
“I take a lot of pride in wearing the number 13 and the responsibility that comes with it. I want to make the guys in the system feel safe and hopefully give through accurate information to help them feel comfortable in where they find themselves on the field.”
The DHL Stormers capped a dream 2022 by winning the Vodacom United Rugby Championship and Nel is eager for more silverware in 2023.
“I think the last year has been groundbreaking in general for the DHL Stormers brand and union. Winning the Vodacom URC, hosting a final, playing in the Heineken Champions Cup, these are all things that I’m sure any player wants to be part of,” said Nel.
“The Heineken Champions Cup is so unique because it literally represents the best of the best. You can’t get into the tournament without performing in your respective campaigns and then on top of that you need to be on form every weekend because fixtures are so limited. You only have a certain amount of opportunities and one slip-up can cost you a spot in the last 16.
“It’s a tournament with so much history and prestige, and to be a part of that and chase that ultimate silverware is undoubtedly right up there at the top of all our goals for 2023.”