Sweet-toothed Ox hopes for syrupy-sweet end to WB march


South Africa’s Ox Nche smiled widely as he listed the desserts he consumed during the Rugby World Cup in France one after the other.

“I had salted caramel cheesecake, triple chocolate cake and a proper toffee cake,” said the prop delightedly after his key contribution in last weekend’s semi-final victory over England.

The 28-year-old Nche came on in the last half hour of the game and his decisive intervention in the set pieces helped the Springboks to Saturday’s historic final where they will face the other three-time winner – New Zealand.

Of the six completed scrums during Nche’s turn on the field, the Boks claimed four penalties; this includes Handré Pollard’s kick to the posts which finally ensured the Boks a nail-biting victory of 16 – 15.

Assistant coach Deon Davids sang Nche’s praises after the game, describing the prop’s performance as “awesome”.

After the brilliant performance he delivered in the victory against England, the retailer Woolworths even offered to deliver a year’s supply of chocolate cake to Nche.

However, matters could easily have turned out differently; Nche’s participation in the World Cup was in the balance after he suffered an injury during gym training in July.

The bearded Nche missed the Rugby Championship before returning for practice matches against Wales and New Zealand. Since then, he has been seen in every one of the Boks’ matches.

Nche is actually known as Ox and it is a very appropriate nickname when you compare his physique to that of a sturdy ox, rather than Retshegofaditswe, his baptismal name which means “we are blessed” in Tswana.

He grew up in a rural area between Bloemfontein and Lesotho, ran for the University of the Free State (UF) and was part of South Africa’s Junior Goats in 2015.

“I was privileged enough to coach him since he was about 18 years old,” South African scrum coach Daan Human said this week.

“He’s made progress, but I don’t think we’ve seen him at his best yet.

“I think as a forward you reach your peak between the ages of 28 and 32.”

Leave the calories, bring the cake!

Nche, who tips the scales at 123kg, made his test debut in 2018 under Rassie Erasmus and has since played in 27 tests.

He is almost a cult figure with many South African fans thanks to his gentleness – and his love for all that is sweet.

In April last year, he shared a photo of himself laying down on a chocolate cake with the words “Salads don’t win scrums” on a blackboard next to it.

There is even a brand that sells clothing with this slogan on it.

“I don’t count calories; I’m counting the slices of cake,” Nche joked in August.

Off the field, Nche’s sense of humor makes him a beloved comrade among his fellow Boks, while his performance on the field – especially in the scrums – does not go unnoticed.

He made two further appearances in the Springboks’ starting team in the march to the final, but the soft-spoken forward was decisive in head coach Jacques Nienaber’s clever use of substitutes.

“Ox and the men behind him are special,” Bok captain Siya Kolisi said after the England victory.

“We have a lot of pride in our scrum.”

And if the Springboks hold up the Webb Ellis trophy for a record-breaking fourth time on Saturday night, this forward from the Free State might just celebrate with a sweet snack or six.