Ox will fight Russia for European glory

Ox Nche is set to step into the ring with a former Russian wrestler when the Sharks take on Gloucester in the EPCR Challenge Cup final in London on Friday night. JACK DYLAN reports.

When Nche takes part in the Sharks scrum at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, he will likely be looking at a former bronze medal-winning wrestler in Kirill Gotovtsev.

The Russian is currently Gloucester’s right-hander, having started 17 games this season, including the Challenge Cup semi-final.

Gotovtsev had an unusual journey into professional rugby, with successful spells in wrestling (he won bronze at the 2010 Russian Championships) and luge before taking up the sport.

The 36-year-old earned 12 caps and represented his country at the 2019 World Cup, before joining Gloucester in 2021, earning a contract extension this year.

“Honestly, I’m happy we don’t have to fight on Friday,” Nche said with a smile when asked about his opponent. “I see that he was practically a state champion.

“Fortunately, we don’t have to fight, we have to scrum.”

This doesn’t mean the 2023 World Cup winner is taking anything for granted as he is well aware of the threat Gloucester pose in the scrums.

“You can never relax, not in this sport. “Rugby can be a humbling sport,” Nche said.

“I think it will be a very good challenge for me, scruming against a guy like that. He has been captain of the Russian team. He has played in a World Cup and is a very good player.

“It’s going to be a great challenge. In the last few games, the scrum has won them 13 penalties, so it’s going to be a challenge for us,” Nche added.

“It’s something we’re looking forward to and I think it will be a good test. Gloucester will not play in the final because they were lucky. “You can see the amount of hard work they have put in to do well as a unit.”

Nche, a pivotal part of the Springboks’ successful World Cup title defense last year, has played in much bigger games, but that doesn’t mean he or the other Boks in the Sharks squad are trying Friday with less than the respect it deserves. .

“It’s a serious game. It is something we have never done as a union,” he stated. “It’s going to be as big a challenge for us (as the World Cup final). We are taking it in the same way, with the same intensity.

“We could be the first South African team to win a European title. For us, it would be an incredible reward if we did.”

Nche is one of a few World Cup winners who will add plenty of experience to the Sharks line-up, with Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi, Vincent Koch, Grant Williams and Makazole Mapimpi all set to come into action.

“We try to use our experience as much as we can, but there is also a different way of doing things,” Nche said. “You’re working with different guys in a different environment. You’re just trying to keep the players calm and focused on what they need to do.

“That’s our biggest task right now, making sure the guys don’t get bombarded on such a big stage to play on.”

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images