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Former Shimlas coach Franco Smith remembers the role of Ox Nché in the 2015 final

The last time FNB UFS Shimlas played in the final of the FNB Varsity Cup, they had a 20-year-old loosehead prop anchoring their scum. The name – Retshegofaditswe Nché.  


Ox Nché as he is affectionately known, played a huge role back in 2015 when Shimlas thrashed FNB NWU Eagles 63-33 in the final and were crowned champions. 


The impressive performance of the Thaba Nchu-born ex-learner from HTS Louis Botha in Bloemfontein led to his inclusion in a 37-man South Africa Under-20 training squad. He subsequently featured in a friendly match (31-24) against a Varsity Cup Dream Team that was named after the 2015 competition. 


The 28-year-old, who has since racked up 26 Tests for the Springboks, made his mark as one of the world’s strongest scrummagers at the Rugby World Cup in France last year. He was hugely influential in laying the foundation for South Africa being crowned world champions for an unprecedented fourth time.  


Nché shared his thoughts with Varsity Rugby on that final in 2015. 


“For me, at the time a 20-year-old, playing in the Varsity Cup was a big achievement. I played with a lot of guys who had to wait until their final year to play for the Varsity Cup firs team, so for me, it was an absolute honour and privilege.   


“Coach Franco (Smith) taught us a lot of things, the believe in each other, how much it would mean for the Free State and for the Varsity (to win). It was against Shimlas’ oldest rivals, Pukke (Eagles). 


“That’s where everything started for me, to have the mindset of how I can become the absolute best I can be.” 


Besides Nché being a product of Varsity Cup, the coach of the 2015 victorious Shimlas side was Franco Smith who also attended UFS and wore the Springbok jersey in nine test matches. Smith went on to coach the Cheetahs (2015-2019) before becoming the head of High Performance of Italy. He is currently the head coach of Glasgow Warriors in Scotland. 


Remembering the 2015 Varsity Cup final, Smith said he will always be grateful towards Shimlas because they gave him an opportunity to put a stamp on his coaching career in South Africa. 


“I have great memories of that final. I remember we were down 8-20 in the first strategy break … but after that the boys changed things around. Our set pieces were working well which allowed us to play with width and get the offload game going. 


“The stadium was filled with almost the whole of Bloemfontein. It was not just students but the whole Free State family coming out to support us was something special for me. 


“That win meant a lot for some of the boys. I ended up signing them for the Cheetahs the season after that and we won the Currie Cup in 2016. 


“A lot of those boys were involved again including Ox. He was a 20-year-old when he started back then. He kicked on and it was great to have coached him for a long time at the Cheetahs.” 


Smith said he always placed a huge emphasis on the set piece, especially the scums, and that is where Nché came into his own. 


“Ox fitted in nicely. He not only laid the foundation up front but also had the ability to move around the park. That is what made him the special Springbok player that he is currently. A lot of players got an opportunity through the Varsity Cup which is a great testament to what the competition has done for South African rugby.” 



by Adnaan Mohamed  

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