Chasing the Sun 2 relives the night Springboks’ Ox Nche put South Africa on his back

The Springboks’ Ox Nche put in one of the all-time great scrum performances against England in the Rugby World Cup semi-final. Picture: Simon King / ProSportsImages / DPPI via AFP

The Springboks’ Ox Nche put in one of the all-time great scrum performances against England in the Rugby World Cup semi-final. Picture: Simon King / ProSportsImages / DPPI via AFP

Published Apr 16, 2024


The 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final against England was the first time in the Rassie Erasmus-Jacques Nienaber era that the Springboks looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

For about 60 minutes of that epic clash, the Springboks looked overwhelmed. They were second in the physical stakes, their set-piece wasn’t firing and they couldn’t handle the English team’s kicking game.

It was a bit like how the Springboks bully teams, with their big forwards dominating the collisions and using their set-piece dominance to get penalties and put the opposition under pressure with territory and a scoreboard that keeps ticking over.

But on that night in the Stade de France, the Springboks were nowhere, making uncharacteristic errors and looking like they had spent all their physical and emotional energy in the match against France the week before.

Chasing the Sun 2 illustrates that perfectly, with the fly-on-the-wall look of the semi-final. It showed a shell-shocked team being grilled by Erasmus at half-time, for not putting their best foot forward.

On that night, in that first half, they did not look like the Springboks he had groomed since 2018.

In the lead up to the match, there was a big emphasis on the team’s scrum preparation. The way the forwards hit the living daylights out of each other, with scrum coach Daan Human taking them to that “dark place” or “the gutter” as the Springboks like to refer to difficult situations.

“Daan likes to get us into the dark place, because he knew in minute 80 or 75 is where a penalty can be won,” loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff remarked.

The scrum sessions looked absolutely brutal, as if a mere mortal would be snapped in half when thrown in the middle of it.

It brings new meaning to an immovable object colliding with an unstoppable force.

“It’s like a farmer, and you know I’m a farmer, if you don’t work the ground, you can’t expect there to be something at the end of the season if you don’t put in the hard work,” Human said.

“Yes, you need the rain and you need the grace, but with hard work everything is possible. The scrum is a big weapon for us as a team, as a country.”

It basically, set up the ending to the episode where the Springboks used this weapon to get out of that “dark place” and into the light of a World Cup final the following week against the All Blacks.

The biggest bullet in that scrum chamber was replacement prop Retshegofaditswe Nche – affectionately known as Ox Nche – who has since become a cult figure in South African rugby for his scrum performances on that cold and rainy evening in Saint Denis.

Nche hails from a village in Thaba'Nchu in the Free State. He came through Human’s hands from the age of 18, while the two were still in the Free State.

With the game on a knife edge, the Springboks 15-6 down in their own 22 and facing an England put-in at the scrum, Nche produced to the most remarkable effort, the stocky prop blowing his appointment out of the way by straightening what powerful back to win the Springboks a penalty.

“Ox is very difficult to scrum against. He has a weird way of just finding a way. He probably has one of the strongest backs you get,” says fellow Springbok front-row forward Trevor Nyakane.

Erasmus added: “I don’t know if the guy can bend or not. He looks like a bar fridge!“

Ox Nche once posted a picture on Instagram with him eating a piece of cake with the caption “salads don’t win scrums!”

It seemed like he put his team, and indeed the entire country, on that strong back as he helped to win a few more scrums, just enough to get the Springboks over the line by a single point.

“I do what I can do,” Nche said.

“I’m not going to kick to poles. I’m not going be the one that gives the last pass to the wing to go score a try. I’m going to try and influence the game the way I can.”

That night in Paris, Ox Nche had his cake, and ate it!