Having waited for so long to get a taste of Test rugby, Ireland’s oldest rookie has no intention of taking a back seat during his country’s World Cup campaign.
It took tighthead prop Nathan White until three weeks short of his 34th birthday to win his first cap against Scotland last month but after reaching the heights, the naturalised Irishman wants to push on and challenge Mike Ross for the starting spot at number three.
“Definitely,” he said. “Mike has been there for a long time, but my job is to push him and keep him honest. If something happens, then I want to be ready to take my chance if I get one.” White could get that chance to shine in a heavyweight scrummaging contest with Romania’s mostly France-based front row when the two countries meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
Having made his World Cup debut off the bench on Saturday against Canada, replacing Ross, the New Zealand-born Connacht forward is looking forward to the workout.
“A lot of their front-rowers are based in France and are seasoned professionals who have played a lot of international rugby together. So, it’s going to be a tough day at the office.”
White arrived in Ireland to join Leinster during the last World Cup in 2011 having played for almost a decade in his native province for Waikato and 41 times in Super Rugby for the Chiefs. It could have been more times but for a serious back injury that effectively ruined every Kiwi kid’s dream of donning the All Blacks jersey and White began looking to pastures new, the thought of ever playing Test rugby farthest from his mind.
“When I first signed with Leinster, it was for a year. I had a 12-month plan — to play for Leinster and see what happened. Luckily Connacht came along just after Christmas and offered me a good deal.
“(Playing for Ireland) was never really spoken about. I guess I stayed and did my three years (residency).
“As that came closer, you started thinking, ‘Jeez, maybe there could be a chance.’”
When he did qualify for Ireland last November and was immediately called into the squad by Joe Schmidt, White was dealt a cruel blow when he ruptured a tendon in his arm and was ruled out of the autumn Tests.
When the Six Nations came around it was his back that was the problem but White worked his way back into contention and finally won his first cap off the bench in August.
“There was almost a bit of relief,” he said of his Test debut at the Aviva Stadium, “it was an amazing feeling standing there; Mick (Kearney), the manager just said ‘right, you’re on’. There was no waiting around, it was straight up: bib off and on (the pitch). I guess there was a lot of satisfaction for all the work over the years.”
With Marty Moore injured, White won the race to earn the chance as cover for Ross at the World Cup with strong showings against Wales and England, much to delight of friends and family back home in Te Awamutu.
“Getting another opportunity, I’ve got a real respect for that, being given another crack. It’s great. Being able to play at a World Cup is fantastic. Mum and Dad are very proud about it all, playing at the highest level.
“There were some pretty dark moments there thinking ‘is it worth it?’ But sitting here now, it definitely is. It was great to stick at it and keep going.”
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