Willem ‘WP’ Nel won his first Scotland cap in August 2015 against Italy in Turin when he came off the bench.
From there he quickly became a vital part of the Scotland pack, excelling alongside Edinburgh Rugby clubmates Ross Ford (hooker) and Alasdair Dickinson (prop).
Named at first in the extended Rugby World Cup training squad, Nel subsequently made the final 31-man group and started in Scotland’s first match of the tournament against Japan in Gloucester.
He featured in all of Scotland’s Pool B matches and scored his first international try when he came off the bench – on his only replacement appearance – in the victory over USA in Leeds.
He continued his firm grasp of the number three shirt the following year, starting every match of the 2016 RBS 6 Nations.
As a stand-out for Western Province in the 2008 Vodacom Cup, Nel was loaned to Boland Kaveliers to compete in the Currie Cup, where he was spotted, and snapped up, by the Free State Cheetahs.
Nel stayed a Cheetah for four years from his Super Rugby debut against the Waratah’s at the tail end of 2009.
He then starred in the club’s journey to the Currie Cup final in which his highlight was undoubtedly a semi-final overpowering of Natal Sharks’ South Africa internationalist Tendai ‘the Beast’ Mtawarira.
These fledgling performances paved the way for Nel’s selection for the Cheetah’s narrow loss to the British & Irish Lions in 2009 (24-26), where he packed down against his now colleague Ross Ford, before starting as the only non-capped player in the Barbarians’ win over the All Blacks at Twickenham (25-18).
Since then Nel’s stock has continued to rise as he established himself as an ever-present in the Cheetahs’ front-row, starting all of the 29 matches in the 2010 and 2011 seasons before signing for Edinburgh Rugby and, ultimately, qualifing to play for Scotland through the residency rule in July 2015.