Nic White and his trademark moustache will be at the heart of everything Australia throw at England at Twickenham on Saturday and the scrum half makes no excuses for his feisty nature and revels in confrontation, even when he is taking on opponents who tower over him.
If the Wallabies are to bounce back from their 15-13 loss to Scotland it will centre around the ultra-competitive White whose international rugby career was revived thanks to three seasons with Exeter Chiefs.
Having missed out on selection for the 2015 Rugby World Cup staged in England, White left Australia for Montpellier and then arrived at Sandy Park in 2017 where he suffered the agony of two Premiership final defeats by Saracens.
His live-wire play did not go unnoticed and an Australian rugby contract allowed him to return to the Test arena in 2019 and play in the Rugby World Cup in Japan where he battled for the No9 jersey with Will Genia.
White was on the bench as England defeated the Wallabies 40-16 in the World Cup quarter finals in Oita in what was the seventh successive loss to England. The teams have not met since and despite the intervening two years, the result still rankles with White, who has regained the Wallabies jersey from Tate McDermott.
The 31-year-old admitted: “Revenge? Probably, having been part of it. Getting knocked out of the World Cup I was pretty annoyed and it was hard that day when you lose convincingly. You cop those ones because you weren’t good enough. But, I feel this is a new group and a completely new coaching staff. It’s a new start for this group – from scratch.”
While White’s persona on the pitch is “in-your-face”, off it the scrum half is an engaging character with a ready smile and sense of fun. He revelled in the fact that Exeter Chiefs welcomed difference rather than demanded conformity and said at the time ( Daily Mail quote):”They really embrace the weirdness. They really encourage you to be yourself; if that’s being loud and cheeky, quiet and mysterious, Harry Williams growing long hair, Luke Cowan-Dickie one tooth and all. The weirder the better.”
White happily acknowledges the continuing excellence of Ben Youngs, the 110 cap England scrum half, who will be the main focus of his attention on Saturday and has been impressed with the development of Marcus Smith, the Harlequins outside half.
“Ben is super consistent and if he is having a bad day it is still a good one and if he has a good day, it is a great one:” explained White who has won 45 caps. “I played against Marcus Smith up here and he is phenomenal and there were a couple of questions about his defence when he was a kid, but he has really come of age. When he has the ball in two hands he is dangerous.”
With Dave Rennie having taken over as Wallabies head coach from Michael Cheika, there will be less verbal sparring this week with Eddie Jones, the England head coach. Jones and Cheika were former teammates at Randwick and sparked off each other in the media.
White, not surprisingly, is intrigued by Jones’s character and would relish the opportunity to “have a beer” with the England coach to chat about rugby. He refers to Jones as the “King of mind games” and takes recent praise from the England head coach with a knowing smile.
White added: “It will be a little less personal for sure. As a playing group I didn’t feel it, but there was a lot in the media between Eddie and Cheik and it will be a little bit different. It will be a good chance to focus on what we want to do and how we want to play. It is nice for Eddie to give us some praise but he is the King of mind games and I am not reading too much into what he says.
“He is the type of guy you would love to sit down and have a beer and talk rugby with and one day, hopefully, I will get that chance. He is the King with the media and I love listening to it, but our job will be focussing on the things we could have controlled (against Scotland) rather than in previous times, concentrating on what England do.
“England is a side we are desperate to beat and they will always be big brother in whatever sport it is and the gloves are on. Twickenham is a pretty special place to play, an amazing stadium and they (England) probably feel they grow a leg in confidence.”