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Tendai Mtawarira's six word verdict on South Africa successor Ox Nche

By Josh Raisey
Ox Nche of South Africa looks on during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between England and South Africa at Stade de France on October 21, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira has called for Ox Nche to start in the World Cup final on Saturday against the All Blacks after his demoltion of the England scrum in the semi-final.

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South Africa’s semi-final win at the Stade de France had a very similar feel to the World Cup final from four years ago, although on this occasion it was a new loosehead prop that was winning the game for the Boks. It was Mtawarira that was causing havoc in Yokohama, while Nche dominated in Paris after coming on for the final 30 minutes of the match.

In light of his performance against England, ‘The Beast’ posted a six word message on X calling for Nche to start in the final. He wrote: “Ox is so destructive..start him.”

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The strength of South Africa’s replacement front row has been fundamental to their success over the past four years as their role is just as important as the starters. Whether Nche did enough to change the mind of head coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is uncertain, but he received high praise from his teammates after sealing their place in successive finals.

Captain Siya Kolisi said after the 16-15 victory that Nche’s performance, as well as that of replacement tighthead Vincent Koch, was “really special”.

“Ox and the guys behind him have been special,” the 2019 World Cup winning captain said. “We take pride in our scrums. It took a while. The guys who started ground as hard as they could. We tried to lay the foundation and sometimes it is difficult. England were never going to lie down and let us go over them. The guys who came on took it to another level, like they did last week. For Ox, Vincent and Bongi, it was really special.”

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Poorfour 5 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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