Ox ready for Russian wrestler, Am ruled out

OX Nche of the Sharks will be key in the EPCR Challenge Cup final on Friday. | BackpagePix

OX Nche of the Sharks will be key in the EPCR Challenge Cup final on Friday. | BackpagePix

Published May 22, 2024


OX Nche is as famous for being a World Cup-winning Springbok prop as he is for his love of cake, but now he is gearing up for an unusual character in the opposition scrum.

Meet Kirill Gotovtsev, a 36-year-old Russian tighthead prop who will square off with Nche in Friday’s Challenge Cup final between the Sharks and Gloucester at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London (9pm kick-off, SA time).

Before getting stuck into scrums, Gotovtsev – who grew up in a freezing village in Siberia – was a freestyle wrestler, and even tried his hand as a brakeman in bobsleigh.

Gotovtsev even played in the 2019 Rugby World Cup for Russia, so he will certainly be no pushover for Nche in the scrums on Friday.

Asked by Independent Newspapers yesterday if he is preparing to dish out a few wrestling moves of his own on Gotovtsev, Nche giggled and said: “No! I’m just happy we won’t have to wrestle on Friday, honestly! I did see that he is pretty much like a state champion, but we just have to scrum.

“You can never relax, not in this sport. Rugby can be a very humbling sport, and I think it’s going to be a very good challenge for me to actually play and scrum against a guy like that.

“He’s captained the Russian national team, he’s represented them a lot of times and has played in a World Cup. So, he’s actually a pretty good player.”

But there’s no doubt that Nche will be up for the fight. Dominate Gotovtsev and the rest of the Gloucester pack in the scrums, line-outs, mauls and breakdowns, and the Sharks forwards will be able to provide front-foot ball for a lethal backline that is blossoming on Siya Masuku’s watch.

The 28-year-old Nche will have a few serious Bok heavyweights to help him too, in the shape of Bongi Mbonambi, Vincent Koch and Eben Etzebeth.

Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell confirmed yesterday that Lukhanyo Am and Jaden Hendrikse have been ruled out with injuries, but Koch and Etzebeth – as well as young centre Ethan Hooker – have been cleared to play on Friday.

Powell said that Hendrikse will be sidelined for longer than Am, who has a shoulder problem and a fractured rib, but may return to action for the Springboks’ international season.

“They (Gloucester) also maul pretty well, and defend mauls too. For us, naturally with our exciting backs and the way that we defend, something that could bring it together is definitely the set piece. If we can win that battle, it is going to be an exciting game,” Nche said.

“It’s going to be a big challenge. In the last five games, they’ve won 13 penalties. It’s a good test, and you can see the amount of hard work they’ve put in.

“It’s a serious game and it’s something that we’ve never done as a union. We taking it at the same intensity, and we could be the first (SA) team to win a European title. It would be an amazing reward if we did it.

“You try to keep players calm and just focused on what they do, and not the event itself – like what they can do to actually help the team.

“That is our biggest task at the moment: just making sure that everyone shouldn’t get bombarded by the fact that it’s such a big stage that they’ll actually be playing on.”

Meanwhile, Nche added from London yesterday that the Springboks will find a way to get around the new law that will be introduced on July 1, where teams cannot opt for a scrum from a free-kick.