Ex-Welwitschia embracing Russian experience

By Simon Borchardt

FORMER Blue Bulls and Welwitschias coach JP Nel tells RugbyRocks.com about being the head coach of Russian club Strela, their large southern African contingent, and his future plans.

How are things in Russia?

Freezing, but good! We had a bit of snowfall last night, so this morning we trained on a snow-covered field. After 40 minutes, I couldn’t feel my toes. It has been cold here for a while, but our snow season is only starting this week or next week. It’s about minus four degrees, but if the wind isn’t blowing, it’s manageable.

How did the opportunity to coach at Kazan-based Strela come about?

I was coaching the Namibia national team with Phil Davies, having previously coached the Welwitschias with Lyn Jones. Lyn was appointed as the Russia national coach and four or five months later, I flew to Russia with Namibia for a tour that also included matches in Spain and Portugal. After the game, Lyn pulled me aside and asked me if I’d be interested in coaching in Russia. I said I’d definitely consider it. At the time, Strela was an amateur club about to go pro. Two weeks later, I flew from Portugal back to Russia for an interview and I officially started here in January last year. It all happened quite quickly.

There are another seven South Africans at Strela as well as a couple of Namibians.

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Tells us a bit about them.

Former Namibia prop Jaco Engels is our forwards coach. My first player signings were fullback Donovan du Randt and hooker Gihard Visagie. When we moved up from the Championship League to the Premier League we knew we had to recruit quite aggressively. I then signed former Cheetahs prop GüntherJanse van Vuuren; lock Stephan Greeff and loose forward Stephan de Wit from the Kings; No 8 Stephan Malan, who had moved to Italy from the Cheetahs; flyhalf Kobus Marais from the Pumas; and Namibia World Cup fullback Johann Tromp. We’re only allowed eight foreign players in the squad and six on the field at once.

Do you think more foreigners will eventually be allowed to play in Russia?

I think they will if they add teams to the premier league. There are a limited number of senior Russian rugby players, but I just watched their U-20 tournament and the talent and numbers are there – it just needs to be developed.

When does your contract end and would you look to extend it or return home?

I signed a two-year deal with the option to extend for another two, which I have done. Jaco’s contract runs alongside mine, while most of the players we have signed are for two years, with the option of a third. I will finish my four-year deal and then look at my options.

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If the club is happy with how things are going and wants me to continue, I’d consider it.

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At the moment, we’re really happy here.

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The people here go out of their way to ensure the foreigners are looked after well.