Ox Nche smiled as the Springbok loosehead prop reeled off the desserts he had tasted during the World Cup in France following last week’s semi-final win over England.
“I’ve had the caramel-salted cheesecake, triple chocolate and a decent toffee cake,” the affable prop said gleefully after his key performance off the bench.
Nche, 28, came on in the final half an hour of the game, and his crucial interventions at set-pieces helped the Boks into this Saturday’s final where they face fellow three-time winners New Zealand.
Of the six completed scrums during Nche’s time on the field against England, the Boks claimed four penalties including Handre Pollard’s match-winning shot at goal that sealed the nail-biting 16-15 win.
“To put up a performance like he did last night, I think that is tremendous,” Bok assistant coach Deon Davids said on Sunday.
After his starring role in the England win, retailer Woolworths even offered Nche a year’s supply of chocolate cake.
Things could have been different though, as his World Cup was in doubt after he suffered a pectoral injury in the gym in July.
Nche missed the Rugby Championship before returning for pre-tournament warm-ups against Wales and New Zealand and has featured in all of the holders’ World Cup fixtures.
Nche is known as Ox, a perfect moniker when you compare his body-build to a heavy-set bullock, rather than his given name of Retshegofaditswe which means ‘We are blessed’ in Tswana.
He grew up in a rural village between Bloemfontein and Lesotho and played for the University of Free State and was part of South Africa’s Junior Boks set-up in 2015, helping them to third place in the World U20s championship.
“I have been fortunate enough to coach him ever since I think he was 18 years old,” Bok scrum coach Daan Human said on Monday. “He has made progress, I don’t think we have seen the best of him yet.
“I think from 28 to 32 as a front-row player that is when you are getting into your prime.”
Nche, who weighs a muscle-packed 123kg, made his Test debut under Rassie Erasmus in 2018 and has gone on to make 27 appearances. He has become a cult figure among SA fans due to his light-hearted character and love of sweet treats.
In April last year, he posted a photo of himself eating a chocolate cake with “Salads don’t win scrums” written on a blackboard. He even has a clothing brand selling jumpers and t-shirts adorned with the motto.
“I don’t count calories, I count slices of cake,” Nche joked in August.
Off the field, Nche’s sense of humour is appreciated by his fellow Boks while his performances on it, especially at scrum-time, have not gone unnoticed.
He has started just two games of the Springboks’ impressive run to the final, but the softly spoken forward has been key in head coach Jacques Nienaber’s smart use of substitutes late in games.
“Ox and the guys behind him have been special,” captain Siya Kolisi said after the England win. “We take pride in our scrums.”
If Nche continues his good form and helps the Boks to a record fourth Webb Ellis Cup with victory over the All Blacks on Saturday then the front-rower from the Free State can have his cake, and eat it.
© Agence France-Presse
Photo: Steve Haag Sports/BackpagePix