By George Byron
OF all the major top-class professional sports, rugby is probably the cruellest of them all when it comes to sustaining serious injuries.
If you want proof, just ask Uitenhage-born EP Kings skipper Darron Nell, 32, who will tell you how an untimely injury can throw your world upside down in a matter of hours.
Nell led his side to victory over the Pumas in the Absa Currie Cup First Division final in front of 22 000 fans at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on October 13.
However, his day was marred when he was forced to hobble off the field with a calf muscle injury before the end after scoring a vital try.
“It was terrible when I had to come off with 10 minutes left of the cup final on Saturday.
Growing up in Uitenhage, Nell placed more emphasis on golf and cricket than the oval ball game in which he was later destined to make his name.
“When I was 10, I was much smaller than the other guys.
“It was only later when I filled out and started to grow that I gave rugby a full go,” the towering 193cm lock forward said.
“Until my rugby took off it had all been about golf and cricket. I played off a one or two handicap and I was an allrounder.
After he matriculated from Muir College, Nell moved to Port Elizabeth to play for Crusaders- Technikon Rugby Club and gained selection for the EP under-21 side.
“Later I moved to Bloemfontein after I was awarded a sports bursary and played for Free State Technikon and then I made the Free State Vodacom Cup team.
“I put in a lot of hard work and was fortunate to play Super Rugby for the Cheetahs and also represent them in two Currie Cup finals.”
Nell was at the top of his game when he decided to move to French club Castres to further his career on the international stage.
It was while Nell was starring for his new French club that he received a surprise telephone call from his agent that would send his career spinning in a new direction.
“My agent asked me whether I wanted to come back to Port Elizabeth to play for the Southern Kings against the British and Irish Lions in 2009.
“I immediately jumped at the chance because I had always wanted to play against the Lions. It was a dream come true for me and memorable to play at the new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
“I spent the week ahead of the game in Port Elizabeth and could see how involved EP head of rugby Alan Solomons and president Cheeky Watson were with building the union.
“At that stage, I was still playing in France but when a chance cropped up later on to join the Kings full-time, I had no hesitation.”
Nell says he has no regrets about the time he spent in France, but he is pleased to be back in South Africa.
“I really enjoyed my stint overseas and the lifestyle was very different.
“I’m glad I went over because if I had stayed in South Africa I would always have wondered what it is like playing in France.
Nell says the decision to include the Kings in Super Rugby next year has given his career a massive boost.
“With so much happening at the Kings I have not been this excited about rugby in a long time.”
“Even though the tempo will be at a pace we have not played at before, we have good systems in place here at the Kings. The more you play at the higher tempo, the more you will adapt. I am sure we are going to surprise a few people.”
Nell says he has not yet decided how much longer he will continue playing at the top level.
“I have signed another contract and as long as I can get up in the morning and still enjoy the game I will continue to play.”
Nell’s advice to young players is to make sure that they are ready to grab every chance that comes their way.
“You must never have the excuse that I am not big enough, fit enough or fast enough.
“You must have all those things covered, so when your chance does come you are ready to give it your best shot.”
This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, October 20, 2012.