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Nel (25) is set to make his first-class debut for Otago on Sunday as the side begins its Mitre 10 Cup campaign against Wellington in the capital.
Nel, a twin, can thank two former All Black No 8s for his journey to New Zealand.
He was playing for the Sharks under-21 squad and had a training session with Murray Mexted and the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand.
Scott Robertson was also in South Africa and he twisted Nel’s arm to get him to come to New Zealand.
"I was with the Sharks under-21s and I was playing Sharks and Vodacom Cup. I just wanted a change," Nel said.
"It was a big call. It was fairly impulsive but I just wanted to have a shot at it then. I was turning 22.
"I came down here in 2014, played for Sumner and following year [Canterbury] wider training group, next year got a cap, the last year got four or five caps with Canterbury. They offered me the same contract as last year but I needed more game time.
"Then Ben [Otago coach Ben Herring] phoned me and asked me about the opportunity down here. I did think about it and I spoke to [Canterbury coach] Joe Maddock about it. He said we have a full shelf of loose forwards.
"So it was a no-brainer and I’m keen to get some game time with Otago."
Nel is a hard-running abrasive forward who will not stand back. He impressed in the game of three halves last week in Christchurch and is looking forward to wearing the blue and gold.He said he preferred the New Zealand style of play.
"South Africa is more narrow-minded. Get the ball and carry hard. Here it is a lot more detailed - evasion, step, offload, test your skills a lot more. Your game grows."
Nel was more of a water polo player at school. The school he attended - Clifton School in Durban - was the South African school champion but with little future in the sport, Nel decided rugby was the best option.
His parents would be visiting New Zealand for the first time next month and would see the Otago match against Canterbury.
Otago v Wellington
Otago: Vilimoni Koroi, Josh Timu, Matt Faddes, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Finn Strawbridge, Josh Renton, Dylan Nel, Slade McDowall, Joketani Koroi, Josh Dickson, Tom Rowe, Hisa Sasagi, Sam Anderson-Heather (captain), Aki Seiuli.
Reserves: Sekonaia Pole, Tom Hill, Donald Brighouse, Sione Misiloi, Sam Dickson, Kurt Hammer, Matt Whaanga, Taylor Haugh
Wellington: Trent Renata, Tuitama Malo, Billy Proctor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Wes Goosen, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Sheridan Rangihuna, Thomas Waldrom (captain), Du’Plessis Kirifi, Vaea Fifita, Isaia Walker-Leawere, James Blackwell, Joel Hintz, James O’Reilly, Tolu Fahamokioa.
Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, Alexander Barendregt, Will Mangos, Greg Foe, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Thomas Umaga-Jensen
Referee: Paul Williams (Taranaki)