White set for tougher times ahead
By Mark Stevens & Alfie Martin
Nic White says he and his Exeter Chiefs team-mates can’t afford to draw breath, even though their place in the Gallagher Premiership play-offs is assured.
Having booked their last four spot in record time, the Chiefs have endured mixed displays in recent weeks, suffering a rare home defeat to Wasps, followed by a narrow victory over visiting Harlequins last Saturday.
Although the mood within the camp remains buoyant, Aussie international White acknowledged standards must remain high with just two rounds of the regular season remaining.
This Saturday, Rob Baxter’s side make the trip to face defending champions Saracens at Allianz Park, before tackling Northampton Saints at Sandy Park on Saturday, May 18.
“We know we’ve got to up our game,” said the scrum-half. “Right now, you don't want to think about the semi-final too much. It’s there in the background, but we’ve got to get through these last two games, which are hugely important for us.
“We can’t afford to cruise into the semi-finals, we’ve got to be right on top of our game. If we’re not, that’s when you’ll come unstuck and have problems. The good things is that these last two games are going to be huge. Both sides are very physical and they’ll be right at you for the whole 80 minutes.”
That said, the Chiefs head into Saturday’s clash with Saracens knowing they not only bounced back to winning ways at the first attempt against Harlequins, but they remain on course to bag a record points tally for the top flight.
“There is plenty for us to work on,” added the 28-year-old back. “A bit like against Wasps, we came out flying. We got the two quickfire tries and felt we were on our way, but then we kind of drew breath and relaxed a little. That allowed Quins’ back into the game, we lost the momentum, and after that we were always struggling to try and wrestle it back.
“The last five minutes was better, we really showed some character during that spell, and we had to dig deep. It wasn’t a pretty win, but we wrestled it out, which just shows the sort of fight and determination we’re going to need come semi-final time.”
In what was an impressive opening from the Chiefs against Harlequins, Ollie Devoto and White himself helped give the Chiefs a dream start as they 12-0 inside the opening quarter. Marcus Smith countered with a penalty for the visitors just before the break.
On the resumption, England prop Harry Williams extended Exeter’s lead with a score just seven minutes into the half, only for the visitors to come storming back. With Chiefs prop Ben Moon yellow-carded for persistent infringing, the Londoners made their numerical advantage pay, running in tries through Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Charlie Walker, one of which was converted to leave just a point between the two sides.
Harlequins pressed hard in the closing minutes, even forcing a penalty chance for Smith, but he was unable to land the testing kick and the Chiefs were able to just about hold on in the end.
“We had a great start and the first 20 minutes was pretty good from us,” continued White. “As I said, we let it slip a bit after that and that’s when we began to struggle. We know we need to be on it for the full 80, so it’s something we will look at as a team come this week. The areas that caused us a few issues, they are pretty easy fixes, so we’ll get back in and look to put things right.”
Now into his second season in Devon, White has been a stand-out figure since arriving from French Top 14 side Montpellier. His on-field form has certainly made many sit up and take note, including back home in Australia where there is strong chat that the player will be included in the Wallabies squad for this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Although squads have yet to be decided, Chiefs’ Director of Rugby Baxter believes he is likely to be without his first-choice number nine for the start of next season.
“We are obviously pleased for him and we are just delighted it is another ex-international player who has rediscovered their modjo playing for us and international recognition has come back to them, very much like Dean Mumm,” said Baxter. “I think it is a fantastic story, it is brilliant for him, he has always had the dream of playing in a World Cup, and for the way he has come over and played for us to lead to that is great for him and great for us.”
White has previously played 22 Tests for his country, the last of which came against New Zealand in 2015.
Baxter added: “His call-up was a little unexpected, but the reality is we are planning around the international players being away for the World Cup, and it is just another body that is not going to be there when we start the season.
“He is not out of contract with us until the end of next season, so he will play the full season with us next year, and then he will join up with a Super Rugby side, but that allows him to play international rugby this season.”