'Ox' happily bears burden of No.1 Bok jersey that belonged to an Os and a Beast

Liam Del Carme Sports reporter
A file photo of Ox Nche in action for South Africa A on his way to scoring a try during the match French Barbarians at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on June 23, 2017.
A file photo of Ox Nche in action for South Africa A on his way to scoring a try during the match French Barbarians at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on June 23, 2017.
Image: Gallo Images

You would be forgiven for thinking Ox Nché would be weighed down by the Springboks No.1 jersey.

The former BSc Statistics student‚ however‚ is undaunted about wearing the number worn with such distinction by an ‘Os’ and a ‘Beast’ en route to Rugby World Cup titles for the Springboks‚ while being stuck on one Test cap for three years served more as thrust lever than anchor.

He will finally double his number of Springbok caps against Georgia at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.

Nché’s name was read first from the team sheet when Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber announced his first Test squad since taking the job last year.

It is an occasion that will give the Springboks and their No.1 the opportunity to emerge from the shadows.

The team has not played since the Rugby World Cup triumph in 2019‚ while Nché has not worn the Green and Gold since the team’s inglorious capitulation against Wales in Washington a year earlier.

A hugely inexperienced Bok team let it slip and lost in the last minute of Rassie Erasmus’s first Test in charge on an occasion that threatened to be an international cul-de-sac for some of the miscreants on display.

Nché admits all he had was "hope’ and ‘hard work" but he finally gets a reprieve.

“Ever since that Test‚ I’ve been telling myself that I’ll do whatever it takes to get back to that level‚” said Nché after he was named in the Bok starting team for Friday.

“The end goal was to get here and get the chance. As much as I’m trying to be a better player‚ I also have to reap the rewards and get the chance to represent my country.

"It is the biggest achievement.”

The task‚ however‚ is as gargantuan as his predecessors.

Nché contends‚ dwelling on the prospect of filling the boots‚ or the jersey Os du Randt and Beast Mtawarira once wore‚ is unnecessarily burdensome.

“I don’t think about it as much as possible because those guys are legends. For me not to put extra pressure on myself because I just focus on what I do for the team.”

Unlike Du Randt‚ Nché didn’t earn his moniker on account of size.

It sprung from what he did.

In primary school his coaches devised a move called ‘Ox’ that basically required Nché to take a quick tap and run people out of the way.

He has clearly come a long way since toeing the soccer ball into touch in grade seven.

“I don’t have a lot of experience and I’m probably one of those players with the least caps‚” reminded Nché.

“The coaches have standards that the Springboks thrive upon. I’m still getting there and I’ll do anything to make sure I'm on the same page as the rest of the players.”

Having former Springbok‚ Cheetahs and Toulouse loosehead Daan Human as Bok scrum coach has helped his re-entry in the national set-up.

“Coach Daan has worked with me from under-19 days.

"I know him very well. He has a passion for scrumming. Coach Daan has helped us massively to get to the next level.”

The challenge of coming to grips with the redoubtable Georgian scrum is one relishes.

“I’m 1.75m so I can go low. I’m excited by it because it is a good challenge for me.”

Clearly primed‚ Nché is ready to prove he doesn't make up numbers.