For almost all of his adult life, a career in rugby is all WP Nel has known.

But, at the tail end of last year, the 33-year-old admitted contemplating hanging up his boots for good.

Having made his international debut in 2015, Nel has been a mainstay of the Scotland team for much of that time but after a hugely disappointing World Cup campaign in Japan for Scotland, followed by a calf injury incurred during a training jog that kept him sidelined on his return to his club side, Edinburgh, Nel wondered if his time as a professional rugby player was over.

“A lot of things went through my mind,” he said of those weeks after the World Cup.

“A lot of guys stepped down and ended their careers, and in the back of your mind there is that thought. Even when I went back and pulled my calf in the off-season, I was thinking: is it time?”

But after a period of reflection, Nel decided that rather than see those set-backs as a sign he should call it quits, he decided to use them as motivation to drive his career on.

“It was a wake-up call,” the prop said.

“I still want to do it, I still want to improve, and I still want to be pushing for that number 3 jersey, so if that desire is gone then I will know that is my time – but at the moment that desire is still there to push for that number 3 jersey.”

Nel may have decided to continue his international career, but he has not had it all his own way this Six Nations, only making two appearance off the bench so far, against Ireland and Italy.

Zander Fagerson has muscled his way into the starting line-up and while this has cost Nel in terms of game-time, he has enough experience to view the increased competition, especially in the form of younger players, as a positive development for the side as a whole. That doesn’t mean that he is not gunning to get the starting jersey back from Fagerson though.

“Zander is a great player. He’s a young boy so I must say that it is great that he has stepped in and played well, but I will be behind him – and he knows I am there,” the South African-born player said.

“Obviously, there is great competition, so he has taken his opportunity and is doing well which is great for Scotland – so if he can build on that, and I can help him get even better, then great.

“There is a lot of things that happened after the World Cup, so for me it has always been about improving my position, whether that is me or the guys coming through. I’m at that stage that if I can start, or even be on the bench, or just be there – I just want to help improve that number 3 position. If can still be competitive, I will be there and give them that nudge to make sure that they are on top of their game, because I will be there."

Nel is once again in Townsend's squad for Scotland's clash with France at Murrayfield on Sunday. The Scots are in far better fettle than they were a couple of weeks ago having secured their first win of the tournament against Italy last weekend.

However, if Nel and his compatriots are to double their winning tally this weekend, they will need to be better than they have been so far this tournament as defeating a France side who are going for the grand slam will be no easy feat, something Nel is well aware of.

"They are playing really good rugby, they’ve got a good pack, their driving maul and scrum is really strong so that is something we will have to be on top of, their loosies are good ball-carriers, and in the back-line we know the French flair so if they are on it that day we will have to be on top of that," he said.

"I think they are almost a complete team at this moment, so there is places we can take them on and we will sit down and identify where that is – but we know we need to be on top of our defensive game on Sunday.

"It’s on our own pitch so we would love to win. It is important to back up a win, but I think it is most important for us as players and team to do on the field what we want to do, and hopefully that will bring us the win."