Philip Nel was one of my heroes when the All Blacks toured South Africa in 1928. Here was another quiet man; a commanding voice however, combined with an attractive, impressive appearance.
When he rose to talk he automatically gained the attention of an audience and commanded their respect. Philip had a very strong personality and an excellent command of both languages.
When we toured Australia and New Zealand in 1937, he got the forwards together and I took the backs, who promptly decided that we wanted to run the ball - no unnecessary kicking. Philip and I later conferred and I told him what the backs wanted. He said: "Danie, the forwards are going to scrum our opponents into the ground first," and that is what they proceeded to do.
Seldom has South Africa ever had as strong a scrummager as Philip, and it was on the 1937 tour that we really started to appreciate that matches are won up front.
If you win the scrums, you win the match - lose there, you lose the match.
In those days one could elect to scrum instead of taking the lineout and during the third and decisive test Philip said at the first opportunity: "All Blacks, we'll take the scrum". I recall the apprehension written all over the All Black's faces.
We scrummed the All Blacks into the ground that day, and it was all due to Philip and his unswerving plan of action that we were able to gain a glorious victory.
Philip was then at the height of his career. Aboard ship on the way home he threw his rugby boots overboard. It was a sad occasion but he retired as captain of the only Springbok side ever to beat New Zealand on their home turf.
An unforgettable player, captain, and man.