It has become common for SA Sevens stars to make a name for themselves in 15s, and Ruhan Nel is no exception. He starred for 2017 Currie Cup and SuperSport Challenge champions Western Province, for whom his versatility was integral, especially in midfield where his decision-making, defence, power and speed were invaluable.
Nel showed no loss of explosiveness after switching back to his preferred code for the start of the 2017/18 World Sevens Series in Dubai and Cape Town, and his ‘speak-to-the-handoffs’ were one of the highlights of the recent SA leg at Cape Town Stadium.
He will be vital to the Blitzboks’ cause in 2018 as they aim to defend their World Sevens title, and chase Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup glory.
A code flip-flopper like Nel, who is contracted to SA Sevens until the end of 2018, would make a welcome addition to any SA franchise, especially the Stormers, who have lost outside backs Bjorn Basson (Oyonnax ), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors) and Leolin Zas (Sharks).
Yet, when WP’s director of rugby Gert Smal went kicking over rocks in search of a new backline star for the Stormers’ upcoming campaign, the best he could come up with was former Springbok centre JJ Engelbrecht. Really?!
A bright future at Newlands was expected for the PE-born Engelbrecht when he joined from Eastern Province in 2008, and he showed promise at wing for the Streeptruie in the Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup competitions between 2009 and 2011. But he defected to the Bulls in 2012 and was retreaded as a centre.
Engelbrecht played 12 Tests for the Boks at No 13 under Heyneke Meyer, but the latter stages of his time at Loftus exposed a lack of the aptitude and skill required to become a top-class centre. He was awarded a national contract in 2014, yet has not played for the Boks again.
He joined Ospreys in 2016 but left the Welsh side after six months, and will return to Cape Town next season after wrapping up a stint in the Japanese Top League.
Failure to launch at the Boks and Bulls, followed by a few seasons idling overseas – has WP Rugby backed the wrong horse by welcoming Engelbrecht back into the fold?
He will provide Stormers coach Robbie Fleck with options in midfield, after Jones’ departure left Damian de Allende, EW Viljoen and Dan du Plessis as the only recognised centres with Super Rugby experience at the franchise. But, after almost two years in Europe and Japan, will Engelbrecht, 28, be able to handle the pace of southern hemisphere rugby?
Also, he will have a tough job challenging for a spot out wide for the Stormers, as Bok speedsters Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Petersen have swapped Free State for the Mother City from 2018.
They will compete for the No 11 and No 14 jerseys with incumbents Seabelo Senatla and Dillyn Leyds.
Engelbrecht may still prove to be an astute signing by Smal, but Nel’s conditioning, versatility and familiarity with the current WP structures make him an obvious asset that should have been acquired.
Devin Hermanus works in the SA media industry, never says no to seconds, PVRs “The Bold and The Beautiful”, and sleeps with his eyes wide shut. Follow him on Twitter: @DevinMyles11
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