As the dust settles (or should I say wind) over a nail-biting finish to the first Bledisloe instalment, a talking point that has not yet received enough attention is Nic White’s astounding performance in the number nine jersey.
After returning to Australia early due to the coronavirus and only playing a handful of Super Rugby AU matches for the Brumbies, White was not the competition’s best halfback. In fact, his lack of playing time alongside Noah Lolesio meant he was benched for Joe Powell who produced a stellar performance in the final.
With Tate McDermott, Powell and Jake Gordon vying for White’s spot in the side, Dave Rennie can be satisfied that his decision to start the 30-year-old was the right one, as he produced a Wallaby-worthy performance.
After a year characterised by a shamelessly one-dimension, running-heavy attack, Wallabies fans came into Bledisloe 1 hoping for a more varies gameplan with ball in hand.
Enter Nic White.
The halfback imposed himself on the game right from the outset, making a concerted effort to exploit any lapses around the ruck. While it is easy to regard his style of play as ball hogging, White’s sniping and constant questioning of the All Black defence was instrumental in stretching it.
In the fifth minute, he took a little shimmy out from the base of ruck towards the blindside which enticed Sam Whitelock to shoot out of the line. White drew the All Blacks second-rower then passed out the back to James O’Connor, which culminated in a Filipo Daugunu line-break and a gain of more than 20 metres.
Another example of White testing the New Zealand defence came after a 21st-minute snipe where he took advantage of Ofa Tuungafasi’s defensive lapse when the big prop was late in making it back to the line. White drew two defenders and got an offload to Matt Philip who was tackled painstakingly close to the line. These types of plays typified the scrumhalf’s outstanding performance in Bledisloe 1.
In addition to his attacking play, the Wallabies number nine expertly utilised the box kick in the windy conditions to test the New Zealanders. His first was blown straight back to him, but his attempts that followed were far better. In the 15th minute, White put up another kick from behind the ruck which led to a positioning error by George Bridge, who dropped the ball and offered Australia an attacking scrum on halfway.
White’s defining moment of brilliance came in the 62nd minute, when the Wallabies were five points down. A loose ball popped out of the ruck close to the New Zealand line and in one motion, he dived over the ball and flicked it to his right, where Daugunu was waiting to leap over the try-line in his first-ever Test.
Just like that, thanks to his fast thinking, Australia were level.
White’s strong performance guarantees his selection for Game 2. However, if you recall his two previous Bledisloe outings, he was a catalyst in the Wallabies’ win against the All Blacks in Perth but failed to replicate it in the next match. He will have to be more consistent if he wants to remain Rennie’s automatic starter at halfback.
They say those who ignore mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. You can guarantee Nic White will be looking to avoid doing just that this weekend at Eden Park.