Ruhan Nel

Nel thriving in knock-out pressure cooker

PUBLISHED: April 6, 2023

DHL Stormers centre Ruhan Nel is loving the intensity in the knock-out phase of the Heineken Champions Cup, which will be taken up a notch in the quarterfinal against Exeter Chiefs this weekend.

Nel was a vital cog in the DHL Stormers team that claimed a 32-28 win against Harlequins in their Round of 16 clash at DHL Stadium next week and is looking forward to testing himself again at Sandy Park in Exeter on Saturday.

While the pressure is mounting, with a semifinal place on the line, the former Sevens star is embracing that challenge.

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“At the end of the day it’s now down to the business-end of the competition; it’s the best of the best, so opportunities are becoming less and pressure is becoming more, so it’s about who can convert that pressure into points when it counts,” he said.

The DHL Stormers were in control for large parts of last week’s clash at DHL Stadium and raced into a 32-7 lead before Harlequins fired back with a late flurry of tries in a 32-28 result.

Nel said that they have taken some valuable lessons from those late defensive lapses.

“We felt so in control of the entire game up until the 73rd minute [against Harlequins]. I think it was a combination of things that happened on the field at that point,” he said.

“It was things we were aware of that might happen and it did, and our ability to have stopped that late surge is something that always comes down to one or two lucky bounces or plays that we have to be sharp on, otherwise you find yourself under your poles,” he said.

Nel is steeling himself for a similarly determined performance from the Chiefs on Saturday, and gleaned some insight from the last-16 encounter on Sunday between Exeter and Montpellier, which went into extra-time.

“I think if there’s one thing that [Exeter] game has shown us is the fight and desperation these guys play with. They play with intensity, and a healthy balance between running, kicking and running it up the guts, complemented with good defence systems,” he said.

He is also looking forward to the battle with his opposite number Henry Slade, who is another accomplished outside centre.

“He’s a great player who kicks, runs, passes, is a good defender, good communication skills and a great workrate, all things needed to make you not only a world-class 13 but also a world-class player.

“It’s always great when you can square off with some of the best guys around the globe and Henry definitely fits into that category,” he added.

The match at Sandy Park kicks off at 18:30 on Saturday.