Our freelance rugby scribe takes a look at the conundrum surrounding Ox Nche's versatility.It was extremely frustrating to read an article published last November, detailing prop Ox Nche's meteoric rise to stardom, that a perceived "crucial" part of his game was his ability to play both tighthead, as well as his preferred position of loosehead. Nche clearly has all the attributes to make for a world-class loosehead prop; strong ball-carrying ability, high workrate and solid scrummaging. Why then would his versatility across the front row be relevant at all?
Many former Springbok props, Robbie Kempson and Balie Swart amongst them, have often been quoted as saying that the No. 1 and No. 3 positions are entirely different, and that their respective scrummaging techniques are worlds apart. Changing between the two would yield limited success. Case in point: Coenie Oosthuizen had the potential to challenge Beast Mtwarira for the starting Springbok loosehead birth when he first came onto the local rugby scene a few years ago. Since he began specialising at tighthead however, his game has slowly begun to labour, and even stagnate.
The same can be said for Thomas du Toit. The "boy wonder" who started a Super Rugby semi-final (at loosehead) in Christchurch at only 19 years of age, has gradually seen his performances for the Sharks slowly diminish since he too traded places in the front row. He is still young, however, and could slowly begin to recapture his form should he revert back to his preferred position of No.1.
With such talented tightheads about as Frans Malherbe, Wilco Louw and Vincent Koch, it is a wonder why there is such an emphasis placed on props to specialise in both positions - let them specialize in one! I sincerely hope the same fate that took hold of Oosthuizen (and, to a lesser extent, du Toit) does not effect a player as prodigiously talented as Nche."