Varsity Cup legend, Nathan Nel feels right at home with Bella Vista RFC

Written by Kenton Kiewiets | Photo: Duke van Schalkwyk, Bella Vista v Delicious, 2023

Many will remember Nathan Nel from the famous UCT Ikey Tigers comeback in the 2014 Varsity Cup final against NWU Eagles in Potchefstroom. Nel scored in the 83rd minute of the match securing the Cape Town outfit’s second Varsity Cup title. Not many know that Nel hails from Ceres despite not having played for any Boland teams, his affinity to Ceres has always been a matter close to him.

At the beginning of 2023, Nel was appointed as the strength and conditioning coach at the Sanlam Boland Top 12 team, Bella Vista RFC.

His love for rugby started at a very young age, attended Gericke Primary School until Grade 6, upon which he received a rugby bursary from Bishops Diocesan College in Cape Town.

“I was at Bishops from Grade 7 until matric,” Nel said. “While at Bishops, I went to New Zealand for a short time and attended the All Blacks Rugby Academy (IRANZ) where I learned a lot, and this took my rugby knowledge to another level.”

Nel matriculated in 2010 and penned a one-year contract with the Western Province Rugby Institute in Stellenbosch in 2011.

“I enjoyed my rugby there [at the Western Province Rugby Institute] for the year. I played for Maties under 20 that year as well as for WP under 19 in the Currie Cup. At the end of the year, I signed a two-year contract with Western Province.”

During this time, Nel also studied at UCT and played rugby for both WP and the UCT Ikey Tigers. He had to decide to continue rugby at WP or to study further while playing varsity rugby. But a telling change of events made it an easy decision for the Bella Vista assistant coach.

“My heart problem developed at that stage and [it] made the decision easier for me that I should put rugby second and focus on my studies.

“In 2013 I went for a heart operation with the help of UCT Ikey Tigers so that I can still play rugby with them while studying, all glory to the Lord, I was able to continue playing rugby.”

Nel recalls that final match as follows: “The following year, in 2014, is one of the highlights of my rugby career because we (UCT Ikey Tigers) won the Varsity Cup in the 83rd minute. I was the lucky one to score the try, but it’s all thanks to my teammates’ hard work and UCT who gave me another opportunity to play rugby.”

Upon graduation, he decided to call it a day and that his rugby-playing days were over. He has never looked back since joining the club rugby scene in his hometown, Ceres. He has high ambitions for Bella Vista and believes they can go all the way.

“I started coaching at UCT, SACS College as well as Westerford College. When Covid-19 hit in 2020, I came to work from home here in Ceres. I got involved with Ceres Rugby Club when rugby started again and decided to join Bella Vista Rugby Club in 2023.

“It was by far one of the best decisions in my rugby career because here [at Bella Vista] there is a very healthy rugby culture, good people and very loyal supporters. I look forward to the rest of the year where we will bring home the Sanlam Boland Top 12 trophy.