/Crash, bang! Ox to extend rich Sharks tradition

Crash, bang! Ox to extend rich Sharks tradition

Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Until
it finally becomes official, call it one of rugby’s worst-kept secrets.

Thought to
be imminent, the Sharks – currently keeping their media department broadly busy
in this area – will unveil Ox Nche as a significant forward signing for Super
Rugby 2020 onward.

You might
well say the cat, if we’re going to stick with animal themes, is out of the bag
anyway, what with new head coach at Kings Park, Sean Everitt, already on record
as being “happy” that Nche, a pivotal figure in the Cheetahs’ march to well-merited
Currie Cup 2019 glory, will soon be part of their mix.

Sadly in some
ways, it will provide further confirmation that the less moneyed, more
platteland-type unions simply cannot hold onto premier assets indefinitely;
Bloemfontein has always been a popular recruitment landscape for the Sharks in
the modern era, even if to the chagrin of supporters of the orange-and-white
cause.

Undoubtedly,
though, Nche seems a snug fit into the Sharks’ plans … and not least because the
low-slung loose-head will extend a rich Super Rugby history of the franchise
boasting No 1-jerseyed props with a natural zeal for wrecking-ball activity in
open play.

It began
with Ollie le Roux, the Grey College-educated beefy unit – almost inevitably
to later become the major marketing face of a massive SA steakhouse chain for
some time – who signed terms in Durban in 1995 and was ready to go for the
launch of Super Rugby “proper” in 1996.

Le Roux, who
could also lay claim to pioneer status as an impact-specialist substitute for
the Springboks, was one of the most recognisable figures in the Gary
Teichmann-led Sharks team who led the South African charge in the then-booming
competition with some majesty (though sans the silverware) for the first handful
of years.

They drew
large, vibrant home crowds, too – with Le Roux’s door-splitting charges with
ball in hand no small lure.

He stayed on
the Sharks’ payroll all the way to 2003, and locals didn’t have to wait too
much longer to witness the arrival of a new rattling freight train in a No 1 shirt:
Tendai Mtawarira.

The “Beast” chant
soon to take root with equal stealth, Mtawarira debuted for them in the 2007
season, and featured in the final as reserve to then more seasoned Deon
Carstens; it remains the occasion in which the Sharks have come agonisingly
closest to hoisting the trophy, done out of it by Bryan Habana’s famous 83rd-minute
infield dart to steal the crown for the Bulls in a mass-disbelieving Durban.

Nevertheless,
the popular, off-field gentle giant has been an integral part of the Sharks’
furniture ever since, and it hasn’t even been confirmed yet that the unusually
one-franchise-loyal figure will be quitting their ranks, currently aged 34,
after a likely final World Cup campaign for the Boks in Japan.

He has shown
renewed international appetite under the Rassie Erasmus regime, and almost
indisputably has another Super Rugby season – at least – in him if he desires
it.

But whether
the Beast remains on board or not for the Sharks in 2020 – he’d be a sublime squad
mentor to the anticipated new recruit – Nche just seems the quite ideal person
to further their reputation for fielding crowd-wowing loose-head props.

At 24, the
former SA Schools and U20 star is still short of reaching maximum personal
potential, particularly in a position where that not uncommonly occurs as late
as the 30-mark or thereabouts, especially from a scrummaging point of view.

That is the
one area of his game, arguably, that most thwarts him at present from more
strongly challenging the likes of Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff for regular Bok
honours, although the former being in his international twilight offers hope
that things could change relatively soon for Nche.

His lone Test
cap thus far came in that difficult, disjointed and highly experimental
exercise against Wales in Washington DC last year, in a front row alongside the
problem-plagued Chiliboy Ralepelle and Wilco Louw.

An
undistinguished date for him then, he has nevertheless bounced back extremely zestfully
at domestic level for the Cheetahs more recently, culminating in a rip-roaring,
champagne-outcome 2019 Currie Cup campaign.

The 1.73m
“brick” has demonstrated an unyieldingly consistent work-rate, hugely dynamic
whether taking the ball into shuddering contact or even as a more cerebral,
elusive runner sometimes, while his tackles spark air-evacuating grunts from
his victims and winces from the stands.

It is a
shame in certain respects that Nche vacates the more set-piece-conscious climes
of the PRO14 for a return to slightly more “run-around” Super Rugby, after two
seasons of exposure to the northern hemisphere-based tournament, though it
already appears to have done him plenty of good.

But be in
very little doubt at all that the overall Retshegofaditswe Nche package will
become a welcome new cult figure in the Shark Tank before you know it.

Now …
where’s that announcement?  

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter:
@RobHouwing