Nel to boost Blitzboks’ Olympic charge

The Stormers have confirmed that influential centre Ruhan Nel has been released to join the Springbok Sevens training camp this week.

Following the team’s loss to the Sharks this past Saturday, Stormers coach John Dobson explained that they were planning to make Nel available to the Blitzboks with the timing still to be decided.

At the time, Dobson said he would communicate with Blitzbok head coach Neil Powell over when exactly Nel would be released to start training with the sevens team.

However, during Tuesday afternoon’s media conference, Stormers backline coach Dawie Snyman confirmed that Nel will start training with the Blitzboks this week and would therefore be unavailable for selection for this weekend’s match against the Bulls in Cape Town.

The 29-year-old looked in excellent form in the Stormers’ Rainbow Cup SA opener, combining excellently with midfield partner Rikus Pretorius to cut a swathe through the Sharks defence in the first half. Nel almost had the decisive touch, but was unfortunate to mistime his dive on a loose ball over the Sharks’ tryline.

‘Playing at the Olympics and winning a gold medal is one of Ruhan’s lifelong dreams and we don’t want to stand in his way, so we have released him to the Blitzboks for this week,’ Snyman said.

Nel last played for the Blitzboks at the 2019 Cape Town Sevens but, with 158 appearances to his name, remains an experienced option available to Powell for the Tokyo Olympics in July. He missed out on selection for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where the Blitzboks finished as bronze medallists.

Dan du Plessis, who was on the bench this past weekend, appears to be the next in line to take Nel’s place in the starting lineup, but Snyman also hinted that young centre Cornel Smit could be rewarded for his performances in the Preparation Series.

‘We have Dan and Cornel to slot in,’ Snyman explained.

‘Cornel was really good in the Preparation Series against both the Cheetahs and Griquas. He is a player with an exciting future.

‘He is an explosive runner and he has good timing when he hits the line and when he accelerates. He likes attacking and having ball in hand. We have worked hard on his defence and that has come good. He spent a lot of time with Norman [defence coach Laker] as it was an area of his game we identified as a need for work a few years ago. In the preparation games he was spot on.’