Sharks have been ‘blown away’ by explosive Ox Nche
Coach Sean Everitt and chief operating officer Eduard Coetzee sat down in the pre-season and agreed on the players to recruit to complement the envisaged style of play - openside James Venter (Lions), No 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Stormers) and loosehead prop Ox Nche (Cheetahs).
Venter has been a menace at the breakdowns, Notshe superb in his linking play, and Nche has revelled in the challenge of filling the mighty boots of Tendai Mtawarira, to the extent that he has surely played his way back onto the Springbok radar.
Nche has a solitary Bok cap - he started in the ill-fated friendly against Wales in Washington DC in June 2018 - but has played no national role since. Steven Kitshoff and Trevor Nyakane (who can play both sides of the front row) would be ahead of Nche in the pecking order but, on form, Nche is pressing hard for at least a place on the bench.
Everitt cannot speak highly enough of the 24-year-old’s contribution to the table-topping Sharks this season.
“Ox came to us with a big shadow to fill and we have been blown away by the effort he has put in and when you combine that with his natural skills, his contribution has been huge,” Everitt said.
“We knew from watching him at the Cheetahs that he is an explosive player with a high work rate, unusual pace for a big guy, and impressive ball skills - and we have seen all of that in the seven rounds of the competition, and then some. I just believe he has got better and better every week.”
During the current break in Super Rugby, Everitt has had the opportunity to scrutinise every minute of the Sharks’ play this season, and the analysis has boosted Nche’s reputation.
“It is the work off the ball that tells you how much effort a player is putting in, and when I see Ox sprinting back 50m to try and see if he can help, even though the try looks certain to be scored, then I realise that this player is giving his all for the jersey,” Everitt said. “Because of that effort, Ox is one of those players that has at least one big moment every single game, whether it is chasing down a backline player from behind to make a telling tackle or sending a try-making pass out to a backline player (his long pass to Andre Esterhuizen for his try against the Stormers). His line speed on defence is also outstanding.”
During the Sharks’ overseas tour, half an hour before kick off against the Hurricanes, tighthead Thomas du Toit was ruled out through illness and Nche, who was supposed to start at loosehead, volunteered to drop to the bench so that tighthead and loosehead specialists Jean Schoeman and John-Hubert Meyer could start in a revamped front row.
“And he scrummed really well at tighthead,” Everitt recalls.