Ox Nche during the Rugby World Cup 2023 quarter final match between France and South Africa at Stade de France on October 15, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Philippe Lecoeur/FEP/Icon Sport via Getty Images)
Springboks tight-head prop Ox Nche smiled as he reeled off the desserts he had tasted during the Rugby World Cup in France following Saturday’s semi-final win over England.
“I’ve had the caramel salted cheesecake, triple chocolate and a decent toffee cake,” Nche said gleefully after his key performance off the bench.
Sweet-toothed Nche, 28, came on in the final half an hour of the game, and his crucial interventions at set pieces helped the Springboks into this Saturday’s historic final where they face fellow three-time winners New Zealand.
Of the six completed scrums during Nche’s time on the field, 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,” South Africa 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.
The bearded 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 Baby Boks set-up in 2015, helping the side to third place in the world under-20s championship.
“I have been fortunate enough to coach him ever since I think he was 18 years old,” South Africa 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,” he added.
‘Count cake slices’
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 South African 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 Springboks 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,” the emblematic flanker added.
If Nche continues his good form and helps the Springboks to a record fourth Webb Ellis trophy 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