Springbok great Beast Mtawarira believes Ox Nche has taken giant strides since joining the Sharks. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Nche has been on the national radar for some time. The athletic prop was impressive with his ball-carrying and handling contributions for South Africa A against the French Barbarians in 2017. He made his Test debut against Wales in Washington DC a year later.
That Test in the USA remains Nche’s one and only appearance for Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks. Given Mtawarira’s retirement after the 2019 World Cup, however, there’s now an opportunity to nail down a place in the squad.
Mtawarira recently returned to South Africa after his stint with Old Glory in the MLR was cut short. A number of South African players have travelled home following news of the Covid-19 outbreak and the suspension of various leagues and competitions around the world.
SARugbymag.co.za took the opportunity to chat to the World Cup winner about various topics. The 117-Test veteran wasn’t afraid to single out Nche when asked about the state of South Africa’s front-row stocks and recent performances in the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament.
‘There are a lot of players putting their hands up. One who has caught my eye is the guy who’s replaced me at the Sharks,’ said Mtawarira, who spent his entire career with the Durban-based franchise.
‘Ox Nche has done a great job since coming in from the Cheetahs. I love the way he goes about his game.
‘To be honest, I haven’t seen the Sharks play so well in ages. It’s just a shame that the season was cut short, as they really seemed to have struck a great balance. ‘
Lukhanyo Am recently told me about how the Sharks are striving to use all of their players – whether they are forwards and backs – in a more complete approach.
Men like Nche have featured prominently when the Sharks have transitioned from defence to attack. While he has contributed strongly at the set pieces and breakdowns, his speed between the rucks as well as his ability to get into position and make telling passes has set him apart.
The Boks travelled to the 2019 World Cup with two specialist loosehead props in Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff. Swing props such as Trevor Nyakane and Thomas du Toit – who has played a lot at No 3 this year – also have the ability to slot in at No 1.
Lizo Gqoboka made his Test debut in the 2019 Rugby Championship, and would have travelled to the World Cup if Mtawarira or Kitshoff broke down with a serious injury. Now that Mtawarira has retired, Gqoboka, like Nche, will be looking to establish himself as a regular member of the match-day 23.
It’s not yet known when the restrictions will be lifted and when or if a competition like Super Rugby will resume. At the moment, it seems like the Tests against Scotland – initially scheduled for July – will be postponed for later in the year.
Coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus had identified the July Test window as an opportunity to strengthen the wider Bok squad. A player such as Nche may have enjoyed a start against Georgia or may even have featured as a substitute in the bigger games against Scotland.
The Bok coaches will have to adjust their plans when the Test season eventually begins. It will be interesting to see where Nche – who has, as Mtawarira says, been one of South Africa’s standout performers – fits in.
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