Boks sweat on Ox Nché recovery for rugby champs opener against Aussies

Liam Del Carme Sports reporter
Springbok prop Ox Nché injured a pectoral muscle during training.
Springbok prop Ox Nché injured a pectoral muscle during training.
Image: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images

Though he was named in the Springbok starting team to play the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship opener on Saturday, Ox Nché faces a nervy wait to see if he will run out at Loftus Versfeld.

The loosehead prop injured a pectoral muscle in training and the severity of the injury is yet to be determined. South African Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus suspects the injury may be severe enough to keep him out of Saturday's game.

“I have a gut feel it is serious because he is not the type of guy who doesn't finish a training session. Ox pushed hard in practice,” Erasmus said.

“I hope it is not too serious. He takes ownership, he has shown leadership. He is comfortable in his own skin. It is not just about scrumming for him. It will be a huge blow [if he doesn't play].”

As a precaution Steven Kitshoff, who is supposed to leave in the next day or so for New Zealand with the balance of the squad, will remain behind for now.

The Bok team to play the Wallabies shows only one new cap. Having recently been cleared to switch international allegiance lock Jean Kleyn has earned himself a starting place for Saturday's clash.

Kleyn, who earned five caps for Ireland, will start in the second row next to Marvin Orie as the Springboks split their resources for their first two matches in the competition.

The Boks are due to send an advance party to Auckland where they will prepare for the Test against the All Blacks on July 15. That group will include regular captain Siya Kolisi, who will be out injured until after the competition, and Eben Etzebeth, who will be considered for selection against the All Blacks.

“Eben will definitely be in the mix next week,” Erasmus said.

That will be a source of huge comfort for the Boks but their immediate attention is on Saturday's clash against the Wallabies.

For that task the captaincy armband will be handed to Duane Vermeulen who captained the team on two occasions in 2019, against New Zealand and a fortnight later against Argentina.

Vermeulen, who has been earmarked as a potential impact player off the bench in the Rugby World Cup, still has prospects in the run-on XV.

“Duane can definitely play both roles,” Nienaber said.

“It was not a difficult decision to decide on a captain.

“We had a few options as potential captains and we have two good leaders in Duane and Lukhanyo [Am], who has been named vice-captain for this match. They are both quality leaders and they’ll have a lot of experience around them on the field, which is fantastic for us as coaches.”

Erasmus said the Boks prefer a captain who operates closer to the referee.

“A loose forward or a scrumhalf is better for that. It is also about the respect we want to show the ref. That is something we want to rectify this year. Not just to communicate to him but to listen.”

Saturday's starting team will feature flank Marco van Staden and flyhalf Manie Libbok for the first time. They have both represented the Boks off the bench.

The team also includes Canan Moodie, who made a spectacular Test debut last year against the Wallabies in Sydney. His provincial teammate Kurt-Lee Arendse, who sparkled in the Boks' last Test against England, is on the other wing.

The Boks have gone for a six-two split on the bench with the versatile Grant Williams and Damian Willemse the designated backs.

Springbok team to play the Wallabies – Willie le Roux; Canan Moodie, Lukhanyo Am, André Esterhuizen, Kurt-Lee Arendse; Manie Libbok, Cobus Reinach; Duane Vermeulen (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Marco van Staden; Marvin Orie, Jean Kleyn, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche.

Substitutes: Joseph Dweba, Thomas du Toit, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Evan Roos, Deon Fourie; Grant Williams, Damian Willemse.


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