WP Nel: Edinburgh and Scotland prop feared for rugby career after neck injury

WP Nel in action for Scotland against Italy
WP Nel returned to action against Italy on Saturday

Edinburgh and Scotland prop WP Nel feared his career might have been over when he suffered a serious injury to his neck.

Nel missed all three of Scotland's Tests last autumn and was in rehab throughout the Six Nations.

But the 31-year-old returned against Italy in Singapore on Saturday.

"There was doubt, definitely," he told BBC Scotland. "Saturday was quite emotional just being back on the pitch. Just realising I had a second chance."

Having initially injured his neck in October and damaged it again in January, Nel was concerned he might have to retire.

"There were times when I thought 'maybe let's just cut it now', especially the second time it happened," he said.

"I missed eight months and I now feel like I can go on for another five or six years."

Nel lasted 50 minutes of the 34-13 win over Italy in a satisfying return to Test rugby after what has been a difficult time.

Edinburgh's WP Neil in action against Harlequins
WP Nel was injured twice playing for Edinburgh against Harlequins

His first neck injury came in October in a European Challenge Cup game against Harlequins.

He was out injured for two months. His return came in January, in the rematch with Harlequins, and it lasted less than half an hour.

Nel suffered damage to the intervertebral disc in his neck and needed surgery.

It removed any hope of him playing in the Six Nations and, as a consequence, his chances of being selected for the British and Lions.

Before injury befell him, he was deemed a certainty to be part of Warren Gatland's squad.

"It wasn't the easiest eight months, but it's a contact sport and you can't chose when you want to be injured," said Nel, who is a wily tutor for young Scotland tight-heads Zander Fagerson and D'Arcy Rae.

"Mentally, it was really tough, but it's made me strong as well. It was hard to watch the boys playing and not be a part of it, although it was nice to see the likes of Zander coming in.

"The biggest low was when it happened the second time against Quins. You build up to something and think you can crack on and it didn't last.

"You know there's something wrong and something must be done. That's the mental bit.

"The specialist was quite confident and said: 'No, let's give this an opportunity, let's fix it'."

Scotland prop Zander Fagerson
Scotland's Zander Fagerson is learning under Nel

Nel had surgery soon after and is now back in the fold. Saturday was his 16th cap.

"It meant a lot to me," he said. "Just to get that game under my belt and be back with the boys was awesome."

Scotland have arrived at their base in Sydney. They're in the beachside resort of Coogee and overlook the Bay.

On Monday, they took a dip in the waters that were practically freezing compared to the oppressive heat of Singapore. On Saturday, they play the Wallabies.

Nel missed the November near-miss against Australia at Murrayfield but was heavily involved in the World Cup quarter-final the year before.

That too ended in a thrilling one-point victory for the Wallabies.

The prop stressed that their hosts still possess their usual threat in the backline but said their traditional weakness, their scrum, has improved vastly in the last couple of seasons.

"They've come a long way with their pack," he added. "Always, when you analysed them, you would look at how they attacked, but you really must look at their set-piece now.

"Their scrum has definitely improved. It's going to be a difficult challenge. But, come Saturday, we'll take it on."

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