Ox Nche during his time a the Cheetahs. He has since moved to the Sharks. Photo: Frikkie Kapp/BackpagePix
Ox Nche during his time a the Cheetahs. He has since moved to the Sharks. Photo: Frikkie Kapp/BackpagePix

Sharks replace Beast with a burly Ox

By Mike greenaway Time of article published Jan 18, 2020

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When Ox Nche presented himself to the media after a Sharks’ training session this week, it struck me that this beaming behemoth is an Ollie le Roux in the making, another roly-poly, crowd-pleasing prop off the ever-reliable Bloemfontein production line.

The Cheetahs, of course, have fed the Sharks for decades. We could go all the way back to De Wet Ras and Vleis Visagie; André Joubert and Pieter Muller; the inimitable Henry Honiball; Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis; Ruan Pienaar ... the list goes ever on.

Now Jonsson Kings Park has Ox Nche, signed to fill the mighty boots of Tendai Mtawarira. A Beast of a task, but Nche has the ingredients to be a crowd favourite. At 1.73m and 119kg he is just about as wide as he is tall, resembling an oversized medicine ball, yet he is highly mobile and everybody loves a rotund prop bustling about with the ball, steam-rolling defenders.

Born and bred in Bloemfontein 24 years ago, he was named Retshegofaditswa Nche ... little wonder the user friendly nickname “Ox” quickly stuck!

He amassed 97 caps for the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup, PRO 14 and a handful of Super Rugby games but has now decided to cut the apron strings of the City of Roses and broaden his horizons.

“I chose the Sharks because of the way they aim to play (an attacking game under new coach Sean Everitt that is not dissimilar to the lively Cheetahs). They are the right union for me at this time when I am looking for a change of scenery to give my career a boost,” Nche said, saturated in sweat and mopping his drenched brow.

“I’m loving it here, but the downside is the heat. I can’t get used to the humidity ...”

I haven’t the heart to tell him that nobody does.

He is indeed a world away from the chilly climes of the PRO 14, where the Cheetahs are currently in action in freezing Wales, Ireland and Scotland, but it is because Super Rugby is so different to PRO 14 that he has made the change. He learned plenty in the Northern hemisphere and now he wants to add to his game the nuances of the Southern hemisphere approach to rugby.

“I’d say for my position and front row play in general, the two competitions are dissimilar - PRO 14 is quite different in that it is massively set piece orientated,” he says.

“The belief is that it is the tight five forwards that win you games and the focus is heavily on that area. In Super Rugby everybody gets a touch of the ball in what is a much more fluid and open game. That is the big difference.”

Nche had a taste of Super Rugby when he was a teenager. He had played SA Schools in 2012 and 2013; SA Under 20 in 2015, and was fast-tracked into the Cheetahs’ senior side only for them to be ditched from Super Rugby when the South African representation was cut to four teams.

The Cheetahs linked up with the Northern hemisphere’s PRO 14 and since then Nche sufficiently impressed to be selected for South Africa A in 2017 and then in 2018 Rassie Erasmus picked him for the Test match against Wales in Washington, the disappointing 22-20 defeat that marked the Springbok coach’s first match in charge.

It is Nche’s ambition to add to that solitary cap for the Boks that has steered him back to Super Rugby.

“I am in a better place to deal with Super Rugby now because I have learned so much about set piece play in the PRO 14 and I know what I have to improve on to become a better player. Super Rugby is a uniquely Southern hemisphere competition and the rugby I enjoy.”

Nche will start at loosehead prop for the Sharks in their Super Hero match against the Stormers in Johannesburg tomorrow (1pm).


Independent on Saturday

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