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Nel (26) will captain the Otago side in its final game of the regular season against Northland in Whangarei.
Nel will also run out on the openside flank, a departure from his usual No8 duties.
The big bruising runner only made his debut for Otago last season, having initially moved from South Africa to Christchurch before coming to Dunedin in 2018.
Regular captain Michael Collins is having a break while skipper alternatives Slade McDowall and James Lentjes are resting and out injured respectively.
Nel is looking forward to the game and his chance to lead the side.
"I have done a couple of club teams but going to a provincial side it is obviously quite an honour," he said.
"I will just say stuff that needs to be done and options we have to look at. Just making sure our leaders are doing their job and I just oversee it."
The side has little to play for against Northland but Nel said there was pride in the side to play well.
"It is really important to build momentum into the semifinals and making sure we do not slip off. We are trying a few different combinations and want to see how they go and build a good mindset."
Nel is big, solid, runs hard and has played on the openside flank before.
"In South Africa age-grade I played there. Back there they like to put their locks in as sixes. It is probably a bit more on the edge than in the middle where I have been playing."
Otago is coming off the disappointment of losing the Ranfurly Shield to Canterbury and Nel said the loss had been worked through and it was now time to move on.
"It was tough but we have just got to remember they are quite a polished side and we did not take opportunities that were there. That has what come through for us. Be accurate and take the chances when they're there."
Nel is over a hip flexor strain that bugged him earlier in the season.
He is expecting plenty of enterprise and fire from Northland, which has nothing to lose.
"They are going to throw everything at us - their last home game and they are an unstructured team. We just have to be aware and stick to our structure when we have the ball."
Northland has won just one game this year, beating Southland in the first game of the season, and since then has racked up eight straight defeats.
Nel is keen to make an impact as he wants to go to the next level at Super Rugby.
He said there had been a bit of talk about making a side back in South Africa. He trained with the Highlanders earlier this year but did not get on the field except for pre-season matches.
He has signed on with Otago for next year.